This book illustrates all of the known non-passerines (rheas to woodpeckers) of South America; however it’s difficult to know exactly how to classify this book. It is part of the Princeton “Illustrated Checklist” series that in previous books has provided, to varying degrees of success, regional field guides. If a birder is going to take a pelagic trip he can be reasonably sure that a vast proportion of the birds he sees at sea will be contained in Harrison’s “Seabirds.” Similar things could be said for other specific habitats. If one is going into varying habitats in most regions, that person is going to encounter passerines as well and they will likely outnumber the non-passerines. Even though this book complements in terms of filling out species not covered by Ridgely and Tudor’s classic “Birds of South America”, those volumes are definitely not in field guide format. The point is that this book does not suffice as a stand alone field guide and there’s nothing at present to truly complement it. If there were, would the birder want to be carrying two books vice one?
Before the plates section there are good descriptions of each family of South American birds. It is nice to see that all illustrations are done by one artist who paints with great consistency and for the most part the art work seems very good indeed. Descriptions and range maps are placed on the page facing the appropriate plate; unfortunately correlating the number on the descriptive page with the plate is not always easy. Rearranging the plate might be quite difficult, but not ordering the species on the facing page to logically follow the plate lay-out is a major oversight. Despite a statement to the contrary, and apart from the vignettes that are understandably on a different scale, there are some examples of birds not drawn to scale. In the description section opposite the plate there is considerable wasted verbiage restating what is obvious from the plate. Occasionally it points out features that differentiate a species from a similar one, but this is done inconsistently. There are also instances when comparatives are used in the descriptions but without stating to what the comparison is being made.
One can’t review this book without discussing the range maps. They are minuscule to the point of being useless in many cases. They appear in different shades of green (aside from the pelagic birds which appear in blue, but mysteriously in the case of penguins green) without explanation.
This book does have some excellent illustrations and is of a very practical size (approximately 7 ½”x5”x1”). As a supplemental resource it succeeds well. If you’re looking for a field guide for any place in northern South America, look to the larger and pricier Birds of Northern South America, Volume 2 by Restall et.al. which illustrates far more plumages and has vastly superior range maps. For Chile look no further than Jaramillo’s Birds of Chile and for Peru the new guide is supposedly going to be out soon. Unfortunately for Brazil one is stuck with Souza or nothing, perhaps the latter is better.
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