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.
Joseph M. Forshaw. 2006. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, and Woodstock, United Kingdom. xii + 400 pp., 120 color plates, 399 color maps. ISBN13: 978-0- 691-09251-5. Cloth, $65.00.—Psittacines (which include Cockatoos, Cockatiels, Lories, Lorikeets, Macaws, Conures, Parakeets, Parrolets, and Parrots) hold a distinguished rank among humans because of their diversity of species, colorful feathers, elaborate calls, and fabulous ability to mimic. Psittacines, unfortunately, are still among the most poorly studied species in the wild, but they have been recognized as among the most attractive pet species for many centuries. People also have contributed directly to population declines of many Psittacine species (e.g., by extermination when in competition for crops, or through the wild-caught bird trade for use as pets) or indirectly (e.g., via habitat destruction), in some cases resulting in their extinction (e.g., Carolina Parakeet [Conuropsis carolinensis], Cuban Macaw [Ara tricolor]). Without question, the order Psittaciformes include more endangered species and subspecies than any other bird group in the world (Snyder et al. 2000). Today, all extant wild or captive psittacine species are included under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in an international attempt to protect populations from going extinct because of the commercial pet trade (CITES 2007), and one species, Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixxi), is extirpated from the wild, though a few individuals remain in captive breeding programs or with aviculturists (Yamashita 2002).
A proper identification guide for psittacine species has been an urgent necessity. With this latest eloquent contribution by Forshaw—the world’s foremost authority on Psittaciformes— and illustrator Frank Knight, Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide is by far the most comprehensive and illustrative handbook for distinguishing all 350 extant species of psittacines in the world. If you are looking for information or illustrations of the 19 extinct pisttacines, look into the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2006) and Forshaw (1989).
This new publication is an essential tool for field ornithologists; natural-history museums, zoo curators; veterinarians; aviculturists; agency authorities implementing international conventions such as CITES; local authorities regulating permits to study, protect, and manage native or introduced psittacine species; customs authorities managing importation and exportation of live birds across world ports; and parrot enthusiasts.
This volume from the Princeton University Press is highly relevant to American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) readers because it includes detailed information about 52 extant psittacine species covered by the AOU Check-list area (AOU 1998, Banks et al. 2006) and 74 introduced species that occur today in urban areas across North America (Pranty and Garrett 2003).
Forshaw, in Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide, has followed the taxonomy from his previous book Parrots of the World (Forshaw 1989) and from Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 4 (Collar 1997), including a few taxonomic amendments from recent literature reviews. One must search hard to critique this handbook, but perhaps it could benefit from peer-reviewed or regional taxonomic lists prepared by a specialist group of taxonomic experts (e.g., AOU 1998). Parrot nomenclature is among the most complicated and poorly studied, and there is a real urgency to develop the taxonomy of this order. Such study would respond to several biological and taxonomic questions (e.g., Eberhard 1998, Eberhard and Bermingham 2004), providing important solutions for some conservation problems. (See parrot nomenclature controversies in CITES 2002, 2004, 2006). In some groups (such as the Amazona ochrocephala-oratrix-auropalliata complex), their taxonomic situation is extremely complicated (see Eberhard and Bermingham 2004). The use of peer-reviewed regional taxonomic lists in books such as this could have a very important influence on psittacine conservation worldwide. The use of correct scientific names in the current nomenclature debate (CITES 2002, 2004, 2006) could help to reduce wild-caught parrots in the pet trade and stop commercial trade with wild- caught species listed in CITES Appendix I.
A great advantage of this identification guide is the updated information presented about each species in the descriptive text sections. Each species’ section includes information about vernacular name, plate number, scientific names, other names, distribution, habitat and status, habits, calls, similar species, and suggested localities (i.e., birding hotspots for a particular species). For some species, distribution information is not necessary, because the same information is given in captions on the text page opposite to each plate. In other cases, the caption and text do not agree (e.g., distribution information about the Mexican Parrotlet [Forpus cyanopigius] ignores the range of the species in the state of Sonora, though the proper information is presented in the caption opposite the plate).
Parts I and II are separated by 121 color plates in the center of the book. These color plates and the drawings by Frank Knight are of outstanding quality and are quite attractive. These superb and very detailed paintings portray every extant species and almost all subspecies of psittacines in the world. Each plate is faced by a page providing color range maps and identification and distribution information. As the author writes in the preface, the purpose of this handbook is to “to address all aspects of identification, both in the field and at close quarters”; birds in these plates are in natural poses, sometimes with dorsal and ventral views with extended wings. It is very important to have one artist do all the artwork in an identification guide; this is especially useful here for aiding identification of this complex group of birds. Many of the plates include male, female, and immature plumages for proper identification. Most birds are uniformly presented without natural backgrounds (as always, with some exceptions, such as plate 24 [Pygmy Parrot, Micropsitta keiensis] and plate 63 [Ground Parrot, Pezoporu wallicus]). Most species are not illustrated engaging in natural activities; however, all portraits show typical parrot postures. If you are seeking more naturalistic illustrations of all parrots of the world, including extinct species, I strongly recommend also William T. Cooper’s plates in Forshaw’s (1989) Parrots of the World. An editorial critique is the lack of proper order of some species plates and correspondent text in the opposite page to the plate (see plates 11, 60, 66, 69). Also, the order of species and text in plates 10, 11, and 12 are confusing; readers will have to turn these plates and opposite text page to find the information and the proper image of each bird. This could have been avoided with appropriate design and review. Adding the page number of each species’ descriptive text in the species caption opposite the plates also would be useful.
Other disadvantages of this handbook are its size (though this is the sacrifice made to have such detailed identification plates) and its price. These two features make it difficult to distribute, particularly to field biologists across the world and customs agents monitoring and protecting these species from illegal bird traffic, which is indicated in the preface as one of the goals of the publication.
As an ornithologist studying and conserving psittacines in the Neotropics, I have always studied and admired Forshaw’s ornithological contributions (Forshaw 1973, 1981, 1989). There is no doubt that other professionals as well as amateurs will learn from this new comprehensive and illustrative handbook. I recommend this book to ornithologists, birders, wildlife-management authorities, and parrot enthusiasts.