PUBLISHED BOOK REVIEWS

A Review by David Pearson

GILL, F. & WRIGHT, M. on behalf of the International Ornithological Congress.
Birds of the World: Recommended English Names. Bulletin African Bird Club 14(2): 232-233.

This list of globalised English bird names, produced by a committee under the Chairmanship of Frank Gill, has been almost 20 years in the making. Given the extensive name differences between various parts of the English speaking birding world, many originally doubted the feasability of the project. And its point was queried on the grounds that the scientific nomenclature already provided a set of unique species names. But regional differences have now been reconciled or submerged, and this book is the result. The list is not set in stone. It is offered as a work in progress, to benefit from evaluation and future feedback. It is bound to need frequent revision as species limits are modified in this age of DNA taxonomic investigation.

A brief introduction outlines the history of the project and the principles followed in naming. Decisions on thorny issues such as hyphenation, capitalisation and spelling are explained. Then follows the list of species, giving the recommended English name and scientific name with an indication of geographic region. Finally there is a comprehensive alphabetical index of generic and English group names. This is not primarily a taxonomic work. Family order and species classification are based on the 3 rd edition (Dickinson 2003) of Howard and Moore 's Checklist of the Birds of the World. A number of additional species splits are included, some of these informed by recent molecular studies.

The authors have succeeded in preserving most of the names in common usage in each world region. But choices have been unavoidable, and the resulting compromise is sometimes unsatisfactory, particularly where genera have been allocated between different regional names. Thus, in Stercorarius , we have the North American Parasitic Jaeger and Long-tailed Jaeger but retain Pomarine Skua, very misleading because the Catharacta species are also Skuas. The African bustards appear as a mix of Bustards and Koorhans, and here we find two taxa recently considered conspecific now named as Buff-crested Bustard and Rufous-crested Koorhan. Elsewhere, the approach is different, and naming guided by generic classification. Thus, all Tauracos are Turacos (Loeries having disappeared), and the Vanellus plovers are strictly Lapwings. Compound group names are always contentious, but their treatment here has been a good one. Hyphenation is limited to double bird names such as Harrier-Hawk and Sparrow-Lark, and to cases such as Thick-knee or White-eye where removal would produce an awkward result. Double group names are elsewhere either combined without a hyphen or more often kept as two capitalised words (as in Rock Thrush).

In Africa , the authors seem to have steered a reasonable course between names traditionally used in the south and in those used in the east and west tropics. We generally see a mix of southern and eastern names, but in cases of conflict the latter have usually been preferred. Some unfortunate choices include Fork-tailed Drongo for Dicrurus adsimilis, hardly appropriate in a world context, and the uninspiring African Pipit for Anthus cinnamomeus . And given that some well established local single word names have been retained elsewhere, the rejection of Lammergeier in favour of Bearded Vulture seems regrettable. A number of names have been improved. Thus shortening has produced Ruppell's Vulture, Blue-eared Starling, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, and the welcome removal of the 'African' qualifier has given us Mourning Collared Dove and White-winged Collared Dove. Moustached Grass Warbler for Melocichla mentalis is a good name from Birds of Africa . Hyphens have been removed from most compound family names, so that we have Buttonquails, Helmetshrikes and Bushshrikes. Some species splits are not yet I think generally accepted. In particular, I note the recognition of two carmine bee-eaters, two hoopoes in Africa , three East African bulbuls, and three East African montane white-eyes.

The list should aid international communication between birders. And it should help bring more consistency into regional English naming, although I wonder how quickly its suggestions will be taken up. It is unlikely that names like Loon, Winter Wren and Mew Gull will enter British birding parlance in the short term, or that Robin-Chat and Turaco will be used in South Africa instead of Robin and Loerie. For now, some continued divergence of regional lists would seem inevitable, and I see no problem in giving alternative as well as preferred English names where space permits.

I recommend this book to any English speaking birder. It is very good value, and comes with a useful CD-rom of the world's birds on an Excel file, giving additional geographical information.