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1 October 2004 Birds of Thailand
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The following critiques express the opinions of the individual evaluators regarding the strengths, weaknesses, and value of the books they review. As such, the appraisals are subjective assessments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or any official policy of the American Ornithologists' Union.

Craig Robson. 2002. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 272 pp., 128 color plates, ∼965 maps. ISBN 0-691-00700-4. Paper, $24.95. Cloth, $49.50.—This field guide is a condensed version of Robson's A Field Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia (2000) and uses most of the same illustrations, taxonomy, and nomenclature. At the same time, this guide adds ∼50 species, recorded in Thailand between 1991 and 2001, to those in Lekagul and Round's (1991) A Guide to the Birds of Thailand, which is now out of print and difficult to find. Robson's Birds of Thailand represents a welcome update to a region where distribution records are constantly being revised as professional ornithologists from Thailand and abroad, along with amateur enthusiasts, explore the country in ever-increasing detail. These 10 years have also added additional details to distribution maps, initially developed by the “ground-breaking” efforts of Philip D. Round, as noted by Robson in his introduction. The illustrations are generally of high quality and (in this reviewer's opinion) generally more useful in the field than those of Lekagul and Round, because of color reproduction problems in the latter authors' guide.

However, a few omissions and additions to the Thailand guide may cause confusion, particularly for local birders and former users of Lekagul and Round, who may have never purchased the bulky and relatively expensive 2000 field guide. In particular, the Thai Lophura subspecies lineata and crawfurdi have been lumped with the Silver Pheasant superspecies L. nycthemera on the basis of plumage variation following McGowan and Panchen (1994), which appears to have been somewhat premature, given their relatively distinct ecology. The previous arrangement used in Lekagul and Round is now supported by DNA evidence that puts the subspecies in question clearly back with the Kalij superspecies L. leucomelanos (Moulin et al. 2003). Also, in both of Robson's texts, Deignan's Babbler (Stachyris rodolphei) is considered synonymous with Rufous-fronted Babbler (S. rufifrons), whereas Black-browed Fulvetta (Alcippe grotei) has been split out from Mountain Fulvetta (A. peracensis). Although those two revisions seem less controversial than those imposed on the Thai pheasants, they have not been formally described. Moreover, although all three of those changes were carefully noted in the 2000 text, they are not mentioned in the Thailand guide. Similarly, although both of Robson's field guides make use of other important taxonomic revisions to groups, such as the minivets (Pericrocotus spp.) and Phylloscopus—as well as changes to common names since Lekagul and Round was published—and although pointing out all the revisions may have been impractical, a few notes here and there to indicate synonyms would have been useful. The Thailand guide is, however, definitely more portable and cheaper than previous guides to the region, particularly now that it is available in paperback, though the paperback version is missing the useful quick-reference pictorial gazetteer in the inside front cover as well as the map of Thailand in the inside back cover.

Finally, two other shortcomings of an otherwise useful field guide are noted here, in the hope that they can be addressed in future revisions. First, as pointed out elsewhere (Round 2003), instead of labeling the illustrations with names, the book uses numbered illustrations to save space, which forces the reader to hunt the text for the descriptions that match the illustrations. The second drawback is that there is no index of names in Thai, as was done in Lekagul and Round. I have found on more than one occasion that a Thai index would have greatly facilitated discussion on a wide variety of topics related to ranges, behavior, nesting, etc. between foreign and local birders. I also think that such an index would make the book more accessible to the growing number of Thai birders, particularly the younger generation, who are in desperate need of education about their country's outstanding biological diversity. Despite these inconveniences, this book should be considered essential to have in the field in Thailand.

Literature Cited

  1. B. Lekagul and P. D. Round . 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Saha Karn Bhaet, Bangkok.  Google Scholar

  2. P. J K. McGowan and A. L. Panchen . 1994. Plumage variation and geographical distribution in the Kalij and Silver pheasants. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 114:113–123. Google Scholar

  3. S. Moulin, E. Randi, C. Tabarroni, and A. Hennache . 2003. Mitochondrial DNA diversification among the subspecies of the Silver and Kalij pheasants, Lophura nycthemera and L. leucomelanos, Phasianidae. Ibis 145:E1–E11. Google Scholar

  4. C. Robson 2000. A Field Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia. New Holland, London.  Google Scholar

  5. P. D. Round 2003. Review of A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society 51:127. Google Scholar


George A. Gale "Birds of Thailand," The Auk 121(4), 1299-1300, (1 October 2004).[1299:BOT]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 October 2004

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