Owls of the World.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Marks, Jeffrey S.
Pub Date: 12/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 121 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: Owls of the World, 2d ed. (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Konig, Claus; Weick, Friedhelm
Accession Number: 216267562
Full Text: OWLS OF THE WORLD. Second Edition. By Claus Konig and Friedhelm Weick. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. 2009: 528 pages and 72 color plates. ISBN: 978-0-300-14227-3. $75.00 (cloth).--Ten years after the first edition appeared (and without co-author Jan-Hendrik Becking), Claus Konig and Friedhelm Weick have revised their book on the world's owls. As in the first edition, Michael Wink is the lead author of a chapter on molecular phylogeny. When George Barrowclough and I reviewed the earlier edition (Auk 118:810-812, 2001), we were critical of the lack of data from nuclear genes in the phylogeny chapter and of the careless coverage of the literature in the species accounts, among other things. Wink et al. have enlarged their cytochrome-b data base and now include two nuclear genes (RAG-1 and LDHb) in their analyses, which increase one's confidence in their proposed relationships. Coverage of recent literature in the introductory chapters and in the species accounts remains inadequate, as detailed below.

The main introductory chapter, Owls: an overview, is largely unchanged, the most conspicuous additions being a statement that nightjars are now believed not to be the closest relatives of owls (owls cluster with Falconiformes, excluding falcons!), several new drawings of types of feathers, and a pleasing suite of pen-and-ink drawings of the heads of adults and juveniles of 16 species. The content of this chapter is sound, but virtually all of the work on owls that has appeared in scientific journals in the last decade (or more) has been ignored. Thus, in addition to not supplementing what is known on basic biology for many species, no mention is made of the growing body of research on exciting topics such as genetic parentage (e.g., Arsenault et al. 2002, Hsu et al. 2006, Koopman et al. 2007), natal and breeding dispersal (e.g., Belthoff and Dufty 1998, King and Belthoff 2001, Forsman et al. 2002), and fitness correlates with plumage traits (e.g., Roulin et al. 2001, 2003; Roulin 2004). The brief chapter on conservation has not been updated with the latest information from BirdLife International, which results in erroneous classifications for more than a dozen species whose conservation status has changed (usually for the worse) in the last 10 years or so.

The taxonomic changes are ground-breaking and provide the main justification for purchasing the book. Wink et al. reorganize the Strigidae into three subfamilies: Striginae with tribes Bubonini, Strigini, Pulsatrigini, Megascopini, Asionini, and Otini; Surniinae with tribes Surnini and Aegolini; and Ninoxinae. In total, 250 species are treated, 27 in Tytonidae and 223 in Strigidae versus 213 (18 and 195) in the first edition. The increase results mostly from splitting, although several newly discovered species are included. Generic changes include placing the Flammulated Owl (Otus flammeolus) in the resurrected Psiloscops, transferring the fishing-owls from Scotopelia to Bubo, and moving nine species of Old World owlets from Glaucidium to Taenioglaux; all of the members of the latter genus lack occipital spots ("false eyes") in addition to differing from Glaucidium in vocalizations and behavior. The number of Tyto species is increased from 17 to 25 (including the American Barn Owl [T. furcata]), the Sri Lanka Bay Owl (Phodilus assimilis) is split from the Oriental Bay Owl (P. badius), the number of scops-owls (Otus) and screech-owls (Megascops) has gone from 67 to 79, the Mexican Wood Owl (Strix squamulata) is split from the Mottled Owl (S. virgata), the Lilith Owl (Athene lilith) and Ethiopian Little Owl (A. spilogastra) are split from the Little Owl (A. noctua), the number of Ninox has increased from 20 to 25, and the Galapagos Short-eared Owl (Asio galapagoensis) is split from A. flammeus. The justification for some of these changes is not clear and often has not appeared in the primary literature, a problem we identified in our previous review. This is not to say that the proposed splits are incorrect, but rather to note that many have not undergone rigorous peer review, and some are unsupported by hard data.

Konig and Weick claim (page 12) that the "text and bibliography have been brought up to date" and the book "may be used as an identification guide and as a source of information on owl ecology and biology, especially for some of the lesser known species." These claims are not accurate. Very little in the species accounts has been updated, and time and again readers will search in vain for journal citations in the list of references at the end of each species account. Instead, the citations continue to be dominated by general works such as field guides and regional references that offer little or nothing in the way of original research results. Many journal papers have been added to the main bibliography, but these papers are not cited in the appropriate species accounts, and most of the information from them has not been summarized in the accounts. The book falls short as an identification guide for the reason the authors understand as well or better than anyone else on earth: many closely related owl species are so similar in appearance that they defy field identification if one does not hear and recognize their vocalizations. The CD of vocalizations for a large portion of the world's owls that was supposed to accompany ,the first edition never appeared, and now we have a new edition without this indispensable aid to identification. It would have been useful had the book included sonograms for as many species as possible, given the increasing ability of birders to digitally record vocalizations in the field and then make their own sonograms.

This should not be taken to mean this is a bad book. Far from it. The illustrations, written summaries of vocalizations, and the proposed relationships are monumental achievements by gifted researchers who have much to teach us about species limits in this difficult group of birds to study. But why package the book as a source of current information on biology and ecology, and why include list after list of the same citations in the species accounts? Perhaps only the publisher can answer these questions. On balance, I am pleased to own a copy of the new edition and will consult it often for information about rare and little-known species and to improve my understanding of species limits in challenging genera such as Otus, Megascops, Glaucidium, and Ninox. At the same time, I eagerly await the release of the CD and continue to wonder why the shortcomings of the first edition remain in the second.--JEFFREY S. MARKS, 4241 Southeast Liebe Street, Portland, OR 97206, USA; e-mail: jeffl7_marks@msn.com


ARSENAULT, D. P., P. B. STACEY, AND G. A. HOELZER. 2002. No extra-pair fertilization in Flammulated Owls despite aggregated nesting. Condor 104:197-201.

BELTHOFF, J. R. AND A. M. DUFTY JR. 1998. Corticosterone, body condition, and locomotor activity: a model for natal dispersal in screech-owls. Animal Behaviour 54:405-415.

FORSMAN, E. D., R. G. ANTHONY, J. A. REID, P. J. LOSCHL, S. G. SOVERN, M. TAYLOR, B. L. BISWELL, A. ELLINGSON, C. E. MESLOW, G. S. MILLER, K. A. SWINDLE, J. A. THRAILKILL, F. F. WAGNER, AND D. E. SEAMAN. 2002. Natal and breeding dispersal of Northern Spotted Owls. Wildlife Monographs Number 149.

Hsu, Y.-C., S.-H. LI, Y.-S. LIN, M. T. PHILIPPART, AND L. L. SEVERINGHAUS. 2006. High frequency of extra-pair copulation with low level of extra-pair fertilization in the Lanyu Scops Owl Otus elegans botelensis. Journal of Avian Biology 37:36-40.

KING, R. A. AND J. R. BELTHOFF. 2001. Post-fledging dispersal of Burrowing Owls in southwestern Idaho: characterization of movements and use of satellite burrows. Condor 103:118-126.

KOOPMAN, M. E., D. B. MCDONALD, AND G. D. HAYWARD. 2007. Microsatellite analysis reveals genetic monogamy among female Boreal Owls. Journal of Raptor Research 41:314-318.

ROULIN, A. 2004. Proximate basis of the covariation between a melanin-based female ornament and offspring quality. Oecologia 140:668-675.

ROULIN, A., B. DUCRET, P.-A. RAVUSSIN, AND R. ALTWEGG. 2003. Female colour polymorphism covaries with reproductive strategies in the Tawny Owl Strix aluco. Journal of Avian Biology 34:393-401.

ROULIN, A., C. RIOLS, C. DIJKSTRA, AND A.-L. DUCREST. 2001. Female plumage spottiness signals parasite resistance in the Barn Owl (Tyto alba). Behavioral Ecology 12:103-110.
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