Oceanic Birds of the World: A Photo Guide

28 september 2019  ·  Rinse van der Vliet  ·  3288 × bekeken

Oceanic Birds of the World: A Photo Guide - Steve Howell and Kirk Zufelt (first edition, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2019). 360 pages, colour photos. ISBN 9780691175010. Price: € 28,50

How often have you read a fieldguide from cover to cover within two weeks? For me the answer is: once. In case of this one.

Roughly a year ago I heard that Steve Howell and Kirk Zufelt were working on a new photographic field guide encompassing all the world’s seabirds. As single volume predecessors on all the world’s species are now somewhat outdated, and do not really meet the high standards for the modern seabirder, a work by two of the foremost seabirders would therefore be direly needed. 

In short the summary by Bob Flood on the back cover is striking: “..they pulled together what is known about seabirds in a single text. The result is more than just a field guide; it provides the foundation for an appreciation of where we are in understanding seabird taxonomy, distribution and range, and identification”. So what is an oceanic birdspecies? In the introduction one can read: ‘A seabird is a bird of the open ocean, one that you need to be out at sea to see’. This means no cormorants and pelicans and only a few marine gulls and terns. More than 300 pages contain over 2.200 colour photographs and deal with 279 species (including provisional splits) in twelve family groups: Penguins (19 species), Alcids (25), Diving-Petrels (6), Petrels (107), Albatrosses (24), Storm-Petrels (45: Southern + Northern), Tropicbirds (5), Frigatebirds (5 or 6), Gannets and Boobies (12), Skuas and Jaegers (10), Gulls and Terns (4 marine gulls, 3 marine terns, 12 noddies), and Phalaropes (2). The species accounts are preceded by 30 pages of introduction: Preface; How to use this book; Taxonomy; Identification and introduction to the families; Timing of moult (which is important for ID in quite a few species); Where and how and Conservation. At the end you will find two very useful appendices: five maps with important geographic seabird(ing) locations, mainly oceanic islands, and one on taxonomy and English names, quite a few of which are newly invented for recently described and provisionally split species. 

Each family-account starts with an introduction in which the most important shared features are mentioned, e.g. behaviour and feeding. There is a further subdivision per genus or, for ID purposes, per group of superficially similar looking genera occurring in the same broader geographic range (e.g. Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Little Auk). For the gadfly petrels a third subdivision is made for small white-bodied species (cookilaria’s), larger white-bodied species and the dark bodied species. The Storm-Petrels are further divided in white-rumped, white-bodied and dark. It took some me some time to get used to this sequence, but once familiar it seems very logical and the best way to treat this group from an ID point of view.

The species accounts are brief, but very much to the point and easy written. This makes this work accessible for every birder. The text is placed next to and below the photographs. Each account covers the most important ID characters, timing of moult, flight manner, range, movements and taxonomy. It is an outstanding achievement that they succeeded in putting in enough information with so little words. A very high information density though. 

The biggest advantage of this book is that everything currently known about taxa and even cryptic species (identifiable at sea or not) is treated. This is reflected through complex groups like the diving petrels, small puffinus shearwaters, giant albatrosses, noddies (the White are split in three, the Blue also in three and the Black in four) and in the various Storm-petrel complexes like White-bellied, White-faced, Leach’s, Band-rumped and Wilson’s. In this guide 175 tubenoses are treated, where there were only 107 in Harrison’s Photographic Guide (1987).

Photographs Despite the very good text, the images are the fundamentals of the book. They are of superb quality and spot on. It must have been a hell of a job to collect them and get them in a comparable format! Many plates of tubenoses have a soft colour blue or grey background (like the sky or an ocean) which means that many images are isolated from their natural background. This makes comparison very easy. Extremely useful are the pages with an overview of the many similar looking species in a family on one page, or the different genera within a family on one page to show the diversity of a whole family in the blink of an eye. Most species show pictures of the species in flight and many also of swimming birds or birds standing (penguins). Multiple photos (on average seven per species) ensure that nearly all plumage and age variations are covered in detail, of the upperparts as well as the underparts. In fact, there are very few gaps. A couple of species like the Sao Tomé and Hawaiian Storm-petrel have only one or two photographs, illustrating the overall lack of images. The recently described Trindade Frigatebird and Cape Verde Storm Petrel are without photos. There must be quite a few of at least the latter though.

Maps are very clear and in full colour, showing breeding areas and distribution at sea, sometimes multiple related species in one map. The maps also include the timing. Not every species has a map, this mainly applies to those lacking enough information.

So is it all hosanna in this book and is there really nothing to complain? To me the most obvious thing missing is the index on scientific names. It feels a little like nitpicking, but with the not always obvious species sequence - and in case you forgot the English names - it can be handy. E.g. the four pseudobulwerias are not grouped together, but split up in two white-bodied and two dark species. There are some more features to add to the description of the jaegers, but as said: nitpicking.

This fieldguide is in my top 2, buy it!

Rinse van der Vliet


Rubén Barone  ·  5 januari 2020  16:35

Hi again.

I have the book in my hand and it's very nice, with a lot of high-quality photos and good texts, even if they're short. I recommend it...

Rubén Barone  ·  5 januari 2020  16:35

Hi again.

I have the book in my hand and it's very nice, with a lot of high-quality photos and good texts, even if they're short. I recommend it...

Leo Stegeman  ·  1 oktober 2019  14:10

Mooi Rinse1 Welk ander boek staat in je top2?

Max Berlijn  ·  30 september 2019  15:42

Gekocht, top boek, dank voor de tip!

Rubén Barone  ·  29 september 2019  17:45


Nice review. I'll try to buy it...

Best regards. 

Justin Jansen  ·  29 september 2019  14:54

Goed verhaal Rinse. klinkt als zeer gaaf boek.

Gebruikers van het forum gaan akkoord met de forumregels.