Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand and the Central and West Pacific.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Pratt, H. Douglas
Pub Date: 03/01/2012
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: March, 2012 Source Volume: 124 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand and the Central and West Pacific (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewed Illustrator: Van Perlo, Ber Reviewee: Van Perlo, Ber
Accession Number: 285207266
Full Text: BIRDS OF HAWAII, NEW ZEALAND AND THE CENTRAL AND WEST PACIFIC. By Ber van Perlo, illustrated by the author. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. 2011:256 pages, 95 numbered color plates, and numerous unnumbered text figures and range maps. ISBN: 978-0-691-15188-5. $29.95 (soft cover).--As the senior author and illustrator of A field guide to the birds of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific (Pratt et al. 1987), which is still in print from the same publisher (second edition in preparation;, I am not an unbiased reviewer of this book, but I will strive to be objective. The two books cover the same geographical area except that van Perlo adds New Zealand. This is the latest of a series of what the publisher calls "illustrated checklists". However, the first sentence of van Perlo's preface reads "This book should be regarded and treated as a field guide in which the necessary information, needed to identify a bird at the moment you observe it, is given in condensed form," so I will evaluate it as a field guide.

Coverage is said to be up-to-date as of 2009, but the book includes some records that have yet to be published (Vice et al. in prep.) and misses others that were published well before 2009 (Rauzon and Jones 2005; VanderWerf et al. 2006, 2008). The taxonomy follows Clements (2007) and is not as up-to-date as the species list. Newell's Shearwater (Puffinus newelli) is mentioned only in the Endnotes as a recent split from Manx Shearwater (P. puffinus), yet the book includes a full account for Townsend's Shearwater (P. auricularis), which occurs in the region only as the subspecies P. a. newelli. Species such as (Western) Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava), Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Black-headed (Tricolored) Munia (Lonchura malacca), and Black-tailed (Grey) Waxbill (Estrilda perreini) that have never been reported or established in the region are included apparently because of confusion with other included species: respectively Eastern Yellow Wagtail (M. tschutschensis); Oriental Reed Warbler (A. orientalis); Chestnut (Black-headed) Munia (L. atricapilla); and Black-rumped Waxbill (E. troglodytes). [For clarity, the previous sentence uses van Perlo's English names (from Clements 2007) with alternatives from Gill and Donsker (2011) in parentheses.]

The Introduction includes a cogent description of plate tectonics and island formation, and rather broad overviews of island habitats and the regional avifauna. The last begins with a brief discussion of how island avifaunas form, a short paragraph about island extinctions, and a rather arbitrary listing of some of the phenomena demonstrated by island birds. It says little about historical causes of island extinctions, ongoing conservation problems, endangered species, or potential new threats to island birds. A series of maps of the main island groups, with bird-significant islands numbered for cross-referencing, accompany illustrations of the endemic species for each group (the Tinian Monarch [Monarcha takatsukasae] and the two megapodes [Megapodius] have the wrong illustrations).

The main body of the book comprises numbered color plates with facing-page species accounts. Nearly all accounts, even those for single-record vagrants, include tiny thumbnail distribution maps (some compress the entire tropical Pacific into 2 cm!). I found most of them too small to be useful, but for widely distributed seabirds, shorebirds, and migratory waterfowl, they provide an informative regional overview. Accounts also include a list of the political entities in which the species lives, sometimes with numbers for particular islands as shown in the Introduction. Crowding and small overall size would not allow direct labeling on the plates, but the numbers, letters, and heavy use of abbreviations make for a lot of annoying cross-referencing,

The author/illustrator defends his simplistic painting style with comments such as "painting each individual feather will give too much information unless the feathers form a pattern" and criticizes other illustrators for including too much detail. But even cartoonish illustrations can be very effective, and require no defense if well executed. Van Perlo's style differs strikingly from my own, but succeeds for an illustrated checklist, if not always for field guide purposes. A few poor drawings notwithstanding, I found his illustrations to be accurately drawn, and I much prefer an accurate drawing painted with less detail to a highly detailed rendering of a bad initial drawing. If the basic drawing is poor, no amount of detail will make it better. Van Perlo succeeds best with birds he knows, either from observation or photographs, so most New Zealand birds are well drawn, while those from Micronesia or Hawaii are less so and uneven. Still, few of the drawings are seriously misleading.

Coloration is another matter. Throughout the book, the colors are overly bright to the point of being garish (possibly more the fault of the printer than the illustrator). But the user cannot assume that everything is too bright generally because the almost fluorescent Orange Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus victor) is disappointingly dull. Within a plate, colors often are more dissimilar than they are in life. The Todiramphus kingfishers are shown as either rich blue or olive green above, even though all are subtle shades of greenish blue. Among the large pigeons, several are too blue above, the New Zealand Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) grotesquely so. The Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), which looks black in the field, Pohnpei Fantail (Rhipidura kubaryi), and Mao (Gymnomyza samoensis) are so colorful as to be unrecognizable.

Comments on identification are very brief, and rely heavily on the illustrations. Most are barely adequate, but many are far too brief. Of the Nukupuu (Hemignathus lucidus), van Perlo simply says "unmistakable in range" when nothing could be further from the truth (Pratt and Pyle 2000), especially given his very inaccurately colored female. I found numerous outright mistakes, the most obvious of which include: long wavy, rather than stiff, tail streamers on the Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda); black, rather than chestnut, thighs on the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias); reversal of the illustrations of the two megapodes (Megapodius spp.); a contrastingly pale tail on the misleadingly named Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes); a barred belly on the nonbreeding Wandering Tattler (T. incana); badly garbled subspecies of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), with hudsonicus wrongly said to resemble variegatus, and the illustration of the latter actually representing the former; the statement that the two Phalaropus phalaropes are identical dorsally with images that compound the error; dusky orange feet (should be black everywhere except the main Hawaiian Islands, where they are bright orange) and dark tail (paler than rest of dorsum in all Pacific forms) on the Black Noddy (Anous minutus); wrong subspecies of Eastern Yellow Wagtail (M. t. tschutschensis rather than M. t. simillima); blue rather than silvery white 'spectacles' on the Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus); a white band on the underside of the tail of the male Common Cicadabird (Coracina tenuirostris); wrong map for the Black-faced Cuckooshrike (C. novaehollandiae); immature Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) with an unstreaked breast; pink rather than red undertail coverts of the Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus); a sharp crest on the Palau Flycatcher (Myiagra erythrops), which shows hardly any crest, and no crest on the Azure-crested Flycatcher (M. azureocapilla), which has a pronounced one; incorrect distribution and misleading coloration of the Samoan form of Fiji Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus vitiensis powelli); the more widespread gray, rather than the much darker Palau form of White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus); prominent wing bars on Maui female Hawaii Amakihi (Hemignathus virens); and misspellings of Niuafo'ou and Matsudaira. The brief habitat descriptions are often inappropriate to the region. For example, the Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), a rare winter visitor to the small islands and atolls of Micronesia, is said to inhabit "sparsely vegetated flats at shallow inland waters", clearly a reference to continental rather than island habitats.

Van Perlo based his voice descriptions on study of published recordings rather than on field work with the unfortunate result that voices of Micronesian and many Polynesian birds are not described at all, even though all have been well described in the literature and are readily available in sound archives. Perplexingly, the accounts include some vocalizations that are not heard in the region (i.e., those of nonbreeding visitors that vocalize only in breeding areas). I found van Perlo's transliterations inscrutable and often downright misleading, and he makes no comparisons among syntopic species that would be helpful to birders. For example, many of the "little green" Hawaiian honeycreepers sing trills that are easily compared (Pratt et al. 1987). Van Perlo accurately describes the voice of the Hawaii Amakihi (H. virens) but fails to compare it to the songs of eight other species with similar songs. His description of the homologous song of the Kauai Amakihi (H. kauaiensis) as a "high, 3-noted, slightly descending tjeutjewjew or reed-warbler-like series" is incomprehensible and must have been based on the wrong recording. He makes no mention of the mewing gnatcatcher-like calls of the three Amakihis although they are among the most frequently heard sounds in Hawaiian forests.

The Endnotes deal briefly with last-minute taxonomic and nomenclatural changes made by the organizations that oversee such matters, and provide a few additional notes on identification. The lists of national and international organizations and the references overlook nearly all important American-affiliated agencies and publications. Finally, an Appendix, with too many errors of nomenclature and orthography to detail here, lists species that have gone extinct since 1800.

Ber van Perlo's book clearly suffers from the author/illustrator's lack of personal familiarity with the region and its birds. He acknowledges that he owes "everything to the artists and writers who are my predecessors in creating field guides" and the statement is no exaggeration. Except for the descriptions of published recordings of vocalizations, the entire content of this book is derivative, a repackaging of previously published (but unattributed) information, none of which was produced by the author himself. Consequently, this book should never be considered a primary source. As a quick and handy illustrated list, it is adequate, but is hardly the kind of field guide most birders demand. However, the general nature-oriented traveler may find the book's compact size and abbreviated text helpful in organizing a trip through this vast ocean region and in identifying its most common birds.--H. DOUGLAS PRATT, Research Curator of Birds Emeritus, North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, 11 West Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601, USA; e-mail:


CLEMENTS, J. F. 2007. The Clements checklist of the birds of the world. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.

GILL, F. AND D. DONSKER (Editors). 2011. IOC World Bird Names (Version 2.9). Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

PRATT, H. D., P. L. BRUNER, AND D. G. BERRETT. 1987. A field guide to the birds of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

PRATT, T. K. AND e. L. PYLE. 2000. Nukupu'u in the Twentieth Century: endangered species or phantom presence? 'Elepaio 60:35-41.

RAUZON, M. J. AND H. L. JONES. 2005. First record of the Kelp Gull and significant records of the Glaucous-winged and Laughing gulls for the central Pacific. Western Birds 36:296-302.

VANDERWERF, E. A., G. J. WILES, A. P. MARSHALL, AND M. KNECHT. 2006. Observations of migrants and other birds in Palau, April-May 2005, including the first Micronesian record of a Richard's Pipit. Micronesica 39:11-29.

VANDERWERF, E. A., B. L. BECKER, J. EIJZENGA, AND H. EIJZENGA. 2008. Nazca Booby Sula granti and Brewster's Brown Booby Sula leucogaster brewsteri in the Hawaiian Islands and Johnston and Palmyra atolls. Marine Ornithology 36:67-71.

VICE, D. S., C. KESSLER, D. L. VICE, G. J. WILES, H. D. PRATT, J. FLORES, P. RADLEY, N. JOHNSON, AND C. AGUON. In prep. New and noteworthy bird records for the Mariana Islands, 2004-2010.
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