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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Product Review - OWLS OF THE WORLD


By Heimo Mikkola

The author of this new photographic guide has worked with owls for almost 50 years, beginning in 1965 at the University of Oulu, Finland, with later research at the University of Kuopio. His research has focused on the ecology of European owls, particularly the Great Grey Owl, and he has previously written the Poyser Guide to the Owls of Europe.

It is a heavy book and suitable for home use only but is a treasure trove of information and places together for the first time, photographic evidence of all of the World's owl species. The photographers who forwarded hundreds of their amazing images make this book truly a work of art and there are many - over 200 individual photographers.

Much of the information included on the taxonomy, distribution and identification is clearly based on the previous work of Konig, Weick and Becking (2008) but information I had not gleaned before was that of longetivity records (page 53) and the fact that no less than 5 new species of owl has been discovered since year 2001 (following 57 between 1901 and 2000 and 190 prior to that). In addition to these 'new' five (Pernambuco Pygmy, Little Sumba Hawk, Serendip Scops, Togian Hawk ad Sick's Pygmy), the book declares a further four for the very first time - Hume's Hawk, Northern Little, Grey-bellied Little and the Santa Marta Screech. Furthermore, it also details 433 described and 9 undescribed subspecies - 37 of which I would say have isolated themselves long enough to be considered a separate species.

Page 69 is depressing, highlighting Extinct Owls, but it is the remarkable collection of photographs that make this tome such an essential purchase. From the albino Long-eared Owl on page 77 to the Vermiculated Fishing Owl on page 303, this book is sumptuous and filled with first-rate representations.

No less than 249 separate species of owl are covered in the Species Accounts (pages 72-503) and each account is subdivided as follows: measurement & weight, identification, call, food & hunting, habitat, status & distribution and Geographical variation. Of these 249, 14 have apparently NEVER been photographed, but for five of these the author has included photographs of skins held at Tring Museum. Thus, almost 850 photographs illustrate almost all of the currently known species.

I liked the layout of the Account pages and in general, there was sufficient text on each individual species to attempt separation. More effort could have been made into concentrating on differences where species were very similar and I was somewhat surprised at the lack of information and clarity on the recently rediscovered Turkish population of the Western Brown Fish Owl. These are just minor quibbles though on what is overall an outstanding contribution to Owl Identification. I ended up with a few 'new' ticks too, including American Barn Owl (furcata), Rock Eagle Owl (bengalensis) and Arabian Scops Owl (pamalae).

This is a beautiful book and one to be cherished - after all, there are few birders that are not mesmerised by these mysterious birds of the night. An essential purchase.

Once again, Wildsounds ( can supply this book free of delivery charge at an unbeatable £29.99.