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1 July 2005 The Birds of Hispaniola
Wayne J. Arendt
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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.

Allan R. Keith, James W. Wiley, Steven C. Latta, and José A. Ottenwalder. 2003. BOU Checklist No. 21. The British Ornithologists' Union. Printed in Italy by Giunti Industrie Grafiche. xvi + 293 pp., 7 appendices, including gazetteer, 73 color plates, 2 figures, 5 tables, 29 pp. bibliography. ISBN 0-907446-26-4. Cloth, £30.00.—As heralded in the Editor's Foreword by Janet Kear, this sterling volume emulates the excellence of Keith's previous BOU (British Ornithologists' Union) Checklist of The Birds of St. Lucia. In the current volume, Allan Keith and his coauthors (all prominent local and regional experts), have written not merely an annotated checklist of Hispaniolan birds, but a very readable compendium on a diverse array of topics ranging from natural history to the geological and climatic record of the island and the region. Other topics include the general history and economy of Hispaniola's two sovereign nations, Haiti and the Dominican Republic; the island's ornithological history, and that of its 10 faunistically related satellite islands; geography; vegetation and forest history; migration; breeding; zoogeography; conservation; and even other taxa. Each topic is succinctly presented and well articulated within 66 pages of introduction. The occasional critic, musing over such a menagerie of seemingly disparate subjects, may complain that many are superfluous to an avian checklist. On the contrary: a careful reading of the entire volume should silence even the most adamant detractor. In preparation of this volume, it is obvious that Keith et al. spent many years on patient and diligent data collection, prolonged visits to libraries and museums, and continuous interchanges with librarians, museum curators, and professional and amateur bird enthusiasts from around the world—as the two-page acknowledgments section and list of 259 data contributors bear testimony.

The authors have not only amassed substantial knowledge on each topic, they have succeeded in synthesizing and presenting their information in a manner that clearly demonstrates how prehistoric and contemporary geological and climatic factors, coupled with the often turbulent socioeconomic history of both nations, have shaped the avian colonization and present-day distribution of birds throughout Hispaniola and the immediate region. Although the geological history of Hispaniola is not well understood and is still controversial, Keith et al. present comprehensive and convincing evidence drawn from several historical and archeological sources, as well as the burgeoning field of avian genetics, in their comparative presentation of the most plausible models leading to the avian diversity and distribution found in the Greater Antilles and peninsular Florida early in the 21st century.

Readers should find the account of the ornithological history especially informative. This section could easily have been dubbed “natural history,” because it encompasses much more than a simple compilation of bird records. I especially enjoyed the engaging discourse on the exploits of several well-known early naturalists—including, in addition to ornithologists, eminent botanists, entomologists, and zoologists. Keith et al. meticulously document a variety of circumstances in which birds have been recorded, ranging from artistic renderings of birds by the region's Amerindians to the first written bird records from Columbus's four explorations between 1492 and 1504. A somewhat longer section describes the numerous voyages undertaken during further exploration and colonization of the West Indies (1492–1750), as well as several subsequent expeditions mainly by visiting scientists and specimen collectors who dominated the scene between 1917 and 1934. The authors bring us to the 21st century by detailing the many scientific expeditions by prominent ornithologists that not only collected valuable museum specimens but, just as importantly, gleaned detailed ecology and life-history notes on island endemics and other resident and migratory birds. This section is adroitly couched in a very brief but, at the same time, enlightening discussion of how ornithological “progress” and the conservation of Hispaniola's natural resources ebbed and flowed during the reigns of each country's numerous dictators and assorted governments. Rounding out this educational journey are a couple of paragraphs outlining the last five decades, a period of intensive field studies of birds and other vertebrates by visiting and resident biologists alike. Contemporary resident biologists and naturalists, some of whom are conservation-minded clerics more than competent in the natural sciences, have made major contributions to the knowledge and understanding of Hispaniola's flora and fauna for more than a half century. Future editions should include Tomás Vargas Mora in the list of the first “home-grown” biologists emerging during the 1970s; he was the first trained ornithologist to work at the Natural History Museum in Santo Domingo, under the supervision of A. S. Dod.

This volume covers as completely as possible the hundreds of bird species reaching and residing in Hispaniola, its satellites, and surrounding waters. Fossil material for 35 species is discussed in the zoogeography section of the introduction; 300 species are treated in the individual species accounts, and another 25 species are discussed in Appendix 1 (Species of Uncertain Occurrence and Hybrids). There are 73 color plates in the volume. Fifty-three are by Eladio M. Fernández, who also contributed 31 of the 32 bird photos, which include 22 of Hispaniola's 25 endemic species. Virtually all 73 plates are excellent and of high quality, but I consider those of Fernández no less than spectacular. I feel that he deserved more recognition than a simple mention buried deep in the acknowledgments section. In future editions, the authors might consider mentioning him on the front cover, given that his color photos immediately alert the prospective buyer of the superiority of this volume. Tables and figures, though kept to a minimum, complement the text with visual presentation of a wealth of geological, geographic, climatic, and habitat information. The 29-page bibliography contains almost half of Wiley's 1,000+ reference citations amassed for the entire Greater Caribbean Basin. The Systematic List preceding the individual species accounts is clear and concise. Status (e.g. resident, migrant, etc.) and abundance terms (vagrant, rare, common, etc.) are easy to interpret and basically follow standard usage. Twenty-seven museums are listed, 13 in the United States and 14 located elsewhere.

Each species account consists of a separate, easy-to-read title line for English name, scientific name, and status abbreviations. One can easily find the residence or breeding status of each species without having to dig through the text. Each account comprises (1) a brief discussion of the species' range outside of Hispaniola, (2) abundance and range throughout Hispaniola, (3) breeding information, (4) taxonomy, and (5) museum specimens. Arrival and departure dates, including extremes, can be found both within the species accounts and throughout the volume (e.g. Table 2). Likewise, ample specimen records are located at the end of each species account, and the number of specimens and species examined are tallied in Appendix 7.

There are enviably few instances of poor reproduction of color plates and figures, typographical, and grammatical errors. However, although plates 1–5 are attractive and professionally made, it is difficult to discern the letters of most words, which often appear fuzzy on their colored backgrounds. I noticed also that the squared term in land-mass areas (km2) appears as an unintentional parenthesis (km″) throughout the text.

In recommending this book to university and public libraries and museums, I can say without fear of overstatement that virtually anyone with an interest in the birds and history of the Caribbean will benefit from this exemplary, commendable work.

Wayne J. Arendt "The Birds of Hispaniola," The Auk 122(3), 1016-1018, (1 July 2005).[1016:TBOH]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 July 2005
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