On the first morning in Costa Rica’s Caribbean lowlands, a flock of parrots flew in and landed in the trees along the road to La Selva Biological Station. “Brown-hooded Parrots,” our guide announced as they sailed overhead. Once they landed in the trees, they were impossible to see until their heads occasionally popped up.
During the two weeks in Costa Rica, every parrot sighting was the same. I was amazed at how the guide was able to announce an ID, as they flew overhead. After reading the introduction to Joseph Forshaw’s Parrots of the World, published by Princeton University Press, I understood. The page providing examples of seven types of flight silhouettes would be an invaluable aid to differentiate types of parrots in the field.
All 365 species of parrots are included in the guide. The book’s color-coded geographical organization makes it easy to focus on the range of genera and sub-species prevalent in a given area. Within each of the geographic regions, the various parrot families are generally presented according to size, starting with the largest family groupings. For instance, the Australasian grouping starts with large black cockatoos, the Afro-Asian grouping starts with large parrots, and the Neotropical grouping starts with the Macaws.
The excellent color plates, illustrated by Frank Knight, that accompany each parrot provide sex and sub-species differentiation, when the variation in plumage pattern or coloration is diagnostic for identification. Each description also lists similar species and how they are different. The range maps also show the location of each sub-species, easily distinguished through color-coding. In addition, each description lists a variety of well-known reserves or lodges that cater to birdwatchers where a particular parrot might be observed.
Some of the challenging aspects of the guide include the size and style of type, which would make it difficult for someone who is far-sighted or has aging eyes to use in the field without retrieving their reading glasses. Even with reading glasses, I needed to be in bright light in order to read the text.
I found some of the terminology more technical than I am used to in a field guide. For instance, I had to look up terrestrial terminataria to discover that it was a termite mound, and I was unfamiliar with the word allopatric (species specialization). When I compared the names of parrots in my Birds of Costa Rica (Garrigues and Dean) with this guide, I had difficulty locating some of the species, since different names were used. For instance, Mealy Parrot (Birds of Costa Rica) was called Mealy Amazon.
It is a guide I will study before a future birding trip to a location with parrots, and will copy and carry with me the chart of flight silhouettes. However, it would not be useful in the field. I would recommend it for ornithologists or field biologists – either for their field work or as an aide when traveling.