Parrots of the World Author Joseph M. Forshaw, Illustrator Frank Knight
Softcover, 328 pages. Published 2010.

This gorgeous and conveniently sized book is unlike any other I’m aware of on this singularly fascinating and colorful group of birds. With a number of features that make it both comprehensive in its treatment and advanced in user-friendliness, this is an essential book for parrot enthusiasts, and one they are sure to cherish.

Parrots of the World covers all 356 species as well as numerous well-differentiated subspecies in the order psittaciformes; and is the only guide to this remarkable group to focus on geographical distribution with large-size and precise range maps. The book’s organization is based on the three biogeographical realms where psittacids are found – a feature I find both inviting and highly user- friendly. There are a total of 146 gorgeous and detailed plates: 62 for Australasia, 14 for Afro-Asia, 68 for the Neotropics, and 2 of equal beauty containing 10 species that are extinct or presumed extinct. To my mind, placing information on every psittacid together in this arrangement, and using what is called “field guide format,” sets this reference apart in a most positive way.

At slightly less than 6 inches by 9 inches Parrots of the World comes in a convenient size for all possible uses, and is very nicely produced. It is also relatively inexpensive, which is rather surprising for a comprehensive treatment of an entire order of birds that contains 146 beautifully produced color plates. This valuable reference is published by Princeton University Press in the US as part of the exemplary Princeton Field Guide series, and as a Helm Field Guide by A&C Black Publishers in the UK. As one would expect, it is available online as well as in stores which offer better bird and nature titles.

Author Joseph M. Forshaw is one of Australia's foremost ornithologists and has been recognized internationally as a leading expert on the world’s parrots. Over recent decades he has written a number of important and well-received books on parrots (as well as other bird groups); but due to its global approach and comprehensive species accounts, his latest effort is quite likely the most valuable and useful yet.

Frank Knight has been a wildlife illustrator for nearly thirty years, and has likely produced thousands of illustrations for scientific papers, artistic books, and field guides to Australia’s birds and mammals. His illustrations for Parrots of the World are nothing short of awesome. Focusing on all 356 species plus recognizable subspecies of psittacids in one book allowed Knight the luxury of creating truly artistic plates with well-spaced birds engaged in a variety of behaviors – including perched and, most importantly, the way most birders see psittacids – in flight. Many of the flight illustrations are shown both from above and from below, an extremely helpful feature for field identification. One glance at the 13 colorful subspecies of Rainbow Lorikeet that are brilliantly portrayed on 3 consecutive plates (most with both dorsal and ventral views, and all with precise range maps), and one will surely appreciate the delightful aesthetic appeal of this book. The excellent detail, bright colors and action scenes make this must-have book a true visual delight.

The first written sections are concise and helpful as a synopsis of subject areas relating to parrots. These include, in sequence: a list of color plates arranged by biogeograhic region, preface, plan of the book (with world map, and sections explaining the use of color plates and their descriptive texts, English names, scientific nomenclature, and descriptive text – with a detailed and useful figure of parrot topography, distribution maps, and references that were used). Next, a 5-page introduction

includes a full-page figure with typical flight silhouettes organized according to seven types of parrots, and concise sections on vocalizations, habitats (with descriptions of ten specific habitats where psittacids can be found), habits, and status and conservation. Beyond these first pages and the indexes found at the end, this book is one half detailed species accounts and easy-to-use range maps on even numbered pages (left pages of the open book), and one half gorgeous color plates on opposite pages (right side).

Each species account provides concise and clear descriptions, with the type of information clearly marked in bold print. These categories include: distribution, subspecies, conservation status (shown in red to be readily seen), similar species, and specific localities where the species can be found. When identifying localities that are especially promising for observing particular parrots, the author has given preference to national and state parks, nature reserves or game parks, forest reserves, and commercially operated lodges or guesthouses catering to birdwatchers. Thus, this book is also a “where to go birding guide,” for those individuals who wish to observe specific members of the inviting psittaciformes order.

Having descriptive text on pages opposite the color plates is always a big advantage. The brightly colored range maps are larger, and thus more precise and useful, than those found in most bird books. Parrots of the World includes the standard index of English names and a separate index of scientific names. But here we find a simple but very useful feature within the English name index. Each species is listed twice, once under the family name and again using the entire name. For example, under Macaw one will find Hyacinth, Lear’s and Spix’s (all together on Plate 77 for easy comparison); and each species is also listed separately according to their full English names. Hopefully all bird and mammal books will adopt this basic but very helpful method of indexing in the future.

A very minor, and nearly unnecessary quibble could be made over the fact that this book is part of a series of “field guides.” Being smaller in size and lighter in weight than a number of recent nation-level field guides means it certainly can be used with great benefit in the field; either as is, or divided and re-bound in thirds according to each the three biogeographical realms where parrots are found. But I feel this misses the point. In the end, the “format” is much less important than the high quality content and the sheer joy one is sure to feel when holding in your hands, a convenient publication containing – for each species of psittacids in the entire world – detailed species accounts and updated range maps, all on pages opposite from superb color plates.

I expect this exquisite and thought-provoking publication will be used both in the field and as a reference before and after birding tours. It will be very helpful in confirming photos or field notes according to species, subspecies, gender, age or fascinating behavior that is observed. These insights into the lives of the widely threatened psittaciformes species are truly a treat. I highly recommend Parrots of the World to bird enthusiasts everywhere.