Volume 154, Issue 4, pages 907–908, September 2012

Book Reviews


Brichetti, P. & Fracasso, G. Ornitologia Italiana: Identificazione, Distribuzione, Consistenza e Movimenti degli Uccelli Italiani. Vol. 7 Paridae – Corvidae. 493 pages, numerous colour photographs, maps, colour and black-and-white figures and tables; CD-ROM: Biologia degli Uccelli. Bologna: Oasi Alberto Perdisa Editore, 2011. Hardback, €48.00, ISBN 978-88-8372- 510-4. Website: http://www.gruppoperdisaeditore.it.

Brichetti and Fracasso's series on Italian ornithology as a whole represents a considerable project which seeks to provide a comprehensive review of the entire Italian avifauna, essentially the first since Arrigoni degli Oddi's Ornitologia Italiana published in 1929. The seventh volume lives up to the high standards set by previous volumes (see Ibis 153: 442). It describes 32 species belonging to nine families: Paridae, Remizidae, Aegithalidae, Sittidae, Tichodromidae, Certhiidae, Oriolidae, Laniidae, Corvidae; 11 more, which fall into the categories of non-established introductions, exotic species and possible vagrants, are briefly discussed. Each species is presented in a clearly structured review of the biometrics, identification, taxonomy, moulting patterns, distribution, ecology, reproduction, migration and dispersal, demographic trends and conservation of Italian populations, complemented by consideration of neighbouring populations, such as Malta or Corsica, when appropriate. Sonograms of the main vocalizations are presented for most species and these are helpfully linked to sound recordings in the CDs, which accompany previous volumes of the series. One of the major strengths of the book is its ability to draw on a wide range of sources concerning almost entirely Italian populations. The authors have seamlessly integrated information from a large body of primary literature with historical sources and records from ornithological collections to provide an exhaustive, up-to-date synthesis of each species. This exercise also reveals the fundamental contribution that local ornithological publications and museum collections have made to Italian ornithology over the years.

Aspects of particular biological interest receive due emphasis. For example, the patterns of niche overlap and hybridization between Hooded Crows Corvus cornix and Carrion Crows Corvus corone in Northern Italy are discussed in great detail. Similarly, the diagnostic features of related species or subspecies potentially overlapping are often summarized in helpful tables. This is the case for different subspecies of Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor and Southern Grey Shrike L. meridionalis, or different subspecies of Jackdaw Corvus monedula visiting the region. The text is supported by numerous high-quality photographs, largely from the region, which document different phenotypes or particular behaviour. An accompanying DVD presents a number of videos on different aspects of Italian bird life, covering: the breeding behaviour of certain species of particular interest, such as the Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni and the White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis; the diagnostic behaviour of different groups (e.g. song featuresin Acrocephalus and Locustella warblers); and a rather diverse collection of more particular aspects of Italian bird life, my favourite of which was nectar-feeding behaviour by trans-Saharan migrants during spring migration.

The book represents a landmark in Italian ornithology and an essential reference for anybody interested in the subject, but it has an importance beyond that, since it can serve as an ideal platform to stimulate further research. One of the striking patterns emerging from the volume is how little we know about the evolutionary and behavioural ecology of most Italian birds. Research in these fields has been traditionally led by ornithologists in Northern Europe. However, Italian species and populations represent an ideal counterpoint because they have often evolved under the selective pressures exerted by habitats (e.g. Mediterranean or Alpine), which can differ drastically from the selective pressures faced by the more intensely studied populations in Northern Europe, particularly under rapid patterns of climate change. The reviewers of volume 6 (Ibis 153: 442) argued that the fact that the series is written in Italian will enable the authors to engage with the community of amateur ornithologists who have contributed so fundamentally to Italian ornithology. While I share this sentiment, I felt that a brief English summary of each species (the use of English in the volume is limited to the species’ name, and a list of morphological terms in an appendix) would have made the volume accessible to a wider readership, reaching out more globally to all biologists interested in the Italian region.

Tommaso Pizzari