Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) is an ambitious project to comprehensively document and illustrate all of the world's birds. Volume 6, covering the families mousebirds to hornbills, will undoubtedly be a favourite among birders with an interest in Africa. As well as covering bee-eaters, kingfishers and rollers, some of the continent's most colourful and charismatic species, the volume also treats four of the Afrotropical region's endemic families: mousebirds, ground-rollers, cuckoo-roller and wood-hoopoes.
A feature of HBW is that each volume commences with a foreword on a particular issue of interest in ornithology. This volume starts with a comprehensive and readable 42-page essay in Avian Bioacoustics by Don Kroodsma and the late Luis Baptista.
The bulk of the volume consists of the featured family accounts following a standard format with sections including systematics, habitat, general habits, food and feeding, breeding, relationship with man and status and conservation. These are liberally illustrated with a selection of high quality photographs. The general family accounts are followed by concise species accounts accompanied by illustrated plates, a distribution map and a bibliography of all literature cited.
The combination of photographs and illustrations works particularly well in this volume given the colourful and photogenic nature of many of the families under review. The collection of photographs accompanying the bee-eaters account is, in my mind, unsurpassed. The colour plates are also of an exceptionally high quality, though this is perhaps unsurprising given the involvement of established artists such as Tim Worfolk, Jan Wilczur and Chris Rose.
At UK£11O this is not a cheap book, but nevertheless it is extremely good value considering that Volume 6 comprehensively describes and illustrates no fewer than 258 species belonging to 12 families. If you buy only one bird book this year, you couldn't pick a better one than this.