| Birds of Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama | By Andrew Vallely & Dale Dyer | Princeton University Press | 2018 | Flexibound | 584 pages, 260 plates with colour illustrations | 1190+ colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780691138022 | £69.99 |
The Publisher’s View:
Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide for the entire region’s avifauna, including the birds of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. 260 detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behaviour, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview on the landscape and climate of the region and its biogeography.
The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central America is an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.
“This well-organized and well-written field guide occupies a unique niche, in that it covers all of Central America south of Mexico. The consistently high-quality artwork gives this guide a leg up. The book rightly emphasizes the importance of vocalizations in the species accounts and the resulting descriptions are comprehensive and accurate.”
– Kevin J. Zimmer, author of Birding in the American West and international tour leader for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
“With its valuable text and maps, plus clear plates, this is an excellent guide. Central America is an ornithologically complex region and it is wonderful to have all this information together for the first time. The authors are to be congratulated on undertaking such an ambitious project.”
– Steve N. G. Howell, co-author of Birds of Chile: A Photo Guide
Andrew C Vallely is a naturalist who has worked and travelled extensively in Central America. Dale Dyer is an ornithological illustrator who has contributed to many books on birds, including Birds of Peru and All the Birds of North America. Vallely and Dyer are currently field associates in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History.
Handy & Compact say the publishers… hardly. Yes, it is as compact as its possible to get a guide covering so many species and no doubt a great asset but it’s still a pretty weighty book, not one you would carry into the field and too heavy to hold open in one hand. Nevertheless, I do agree that it fills a gap and has some excellent features. In particular I like the fact where distribution is limited the maps show just the area in question not the whole of central America.
It is well organised and mostly well written and the individual accounts next to the plates are to the point and are what they need to be in such a guide, an aid to identification. Moreover, they include ‘habitat’ giving you an idea where they occur within, say, a forest, directing you to the top of the canopy, forest floor etc., which is not something you see often enough in fieldguides.
Of course the other essential in an ID guide are good illustrations. The actual portraits are pretty good for the most part judging by the species I’ve seen. However, the backgrounds to each plate are drab and often rather dark. The fact that in life many forest birds will be against dark backgrounds but there is no need to make them blend as they do in life and, anyway, there is no consistency in the choice of background colour. I want to be able to see the bright colours and clinching ID features clearly and usually white backgrounds make this easier. I need to know what to look for, not have to search it out.
So, two thumbs up for the writers and just the one for the picture editor.