11 December 2013


"COTINGAS AND MANAKINS", by Guy M. Kirwan and Graeme Green, was published by Princeton University Press in 2011.  It is 624 pages and costs $55.00.

Ahh, what a refreshing change from my last book review!  Here is a book that is both useful and completely astounding.  I won't waste time either... if you want the best resource on cotingas and manakins, go buy this book!

Many of you are probably familiar with "the gull book" by Howell and Dunn, right?  Well, this book follows much of the same format but obviously focuses on the cotingas and manakins of the world (more than 130 species).  Oh, and it makes the gull book look like child's play!  And by that.... I mean this book is a beast of research.  Let's take a quick random peek inside before I go any further:

Exactly.  That's just a portion of the account for a single species.  In truth, this book seems like a culmination of every piece of knowledge ever published on these exclusively tropical New World families.  Yes, this is very much a reference guide but one that you'll probably pull out from time to time even if you AREN'T planning a trip to South America.

One of the reasons this book blew me away was simply the art (by Eustace Barnes).  Other books often have all the manakins jammed onto 2-3 plates which makes it colorful... but maybe not all that easy to navigate between A and B.  The plates in this book though are big, spacious, and detailed.  Here are some samples:

The species accounts are incredibly in-depth, more so than probably any other single source on these families.   Here are the subheadings found with most accounts:

Geographical Variation
Natural History
Food and Feeding

With those categories, followed by a culmination of literature on each, you can imagine reading about some of these strange species.  For example, the Chestnut-capped Piha, which was discovered only in 1999, is limited to a narrow belt of ultra-humid premontane 'cloud forest', at 1,500-1,820m in Colombia.  It was actually discovered in an area that was politically unstable but still largely ornithologically unexplored.  Reading about such species, it really makes me wonder how many other species might be lurking around, completely undiscovered.

There are very detailed range maps accompanying these species accounts (including all the known subspecies); here's a quick sample of the map for Sharpbill (Oxyruncus cristatus): 

As you're probably aware, there are many genera in these two families, some that you might not be aware existed there.  Besides species with the actual "manakin" and "cotinga" in the name, here are some examples of included genera:


All in all, I found this book not only to rose to exceedingly high standards with the plethora of information and research, but I also found it visually stunning with amazing art and detailed map layouts.  Although I, personally, haven't had the good fortune of spending time with many of these species, I can't imagine another more-detailed resource for these species exists.  In truth, this book was almost capable of causing me depression... depression from not having spent more time around these fascinating and still relatively unknown tropical species.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.