Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Sharpe's "A Monograph of the Alcedinidæ"
(S189: 1871)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A book review printed in the 13 April 1871 issue of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S189.htm


A Monograph of the Alcedinidæ, or Family of Kingfishers. By R. B. Sharpe, F.L.S., &c. Librarian to the Zoological Society of London. 4to. (Published by the Author. 1868-1871.)

     [[p. 466]] This work reflects the highest credit upon its author, and will establish his reputation as an Ornithologist. Very few monographs published in England are so entirely satisfactory as this one, for not only have the several parts appeared regularly during the last three years, but the concluding double number just issued contains a copious and well-written introductory chapter on [[p. 467]] classification, geographical distribution, and literature, which renders the book a model of what such a work should be. The Kingfishers, although represented in our country by only one species, are especially abundant in the Eastern Tropics, where they exhibit a great variety of form and the most exquisite beauty of plumage. A considerable number of them are inhabitants of the forests, and never frequent water, subsisting on insects, small crustacea and mollusca, and the larger species even on snakes, lizards, and other reptiles, which they capture by darting down upon them from a branch just as our own species pounces upon a fish. Mr. Sharpe has been fortunate in securing the services of a young Dutch artist, Mr. Keulemans, who has himself studied birds in the tropics, and seizes upon their various attitudes with the happiest fidelity. He also surrounds his figures with little bits of appropriate scenery, so that a considerable number of the 120 plates with which the book is illustrated are beautiful pictures, as well as admirable representations of the several species. We do not hesitate to say that many of these plates are equal to the very best that have appeared in any illustrated work of Natural History. The body of the work consists of coloured figures of every known species of kingfisher, with full synonymy, careful description, and record of whatever is known of its habits. In the introduction, the classification of the species is carefully considered, only those generic groups being retained which can be characterised by marked structural differences. The whole family is first divided into two sub-families: the Alcedinidæ, or true kingfishers, characterised by a compressed keeled bill; and the Daceloninæ, or kinghunters, which have a depressed bill rounded or furrowed above. These are subdivided into nineteen genera, in which are grouped the 125 species of kingfisher now known. The groups are all characterised by modifications of the bill, feet, or tail, and a plate exhibits these generic characters at one view. There is also a tabular key of the species in every genus and of the genera in each sub-family, and the reasons are given for rejecting numerous genera proposed by other authors on insufficient characters. The geographical distribution of the species is then discussed in the same careful manner, an exact account of the known range of every species being given, as well as tables showing at a glance the distribution of all the species of a genus or group of allied genera; after which the results of the examination are ably summed up. Kingfishers present us with some of the most curious anomalies of distribution to be found in the whole class of birds. There is no part of the world so rich in peculiar forms of bird-life as America, more especially the southern half of it, yet it is the poorest of all parts of the world in kingfishers, only eight species being found in the whole continent,--a continent with more rivers and more fish than any other! The single island of Celebes actually contains as many different kinds of kingfisher as all North and South America, while New Guinea contains more than twice as many. It is perhaps even a more extraordinary fact that there is no peculiar type of kingfisher in America, all the eight species belonging to one genus, and that genus found also in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In Africa we have three peculiar genera of kingfisher, and twenty-four peculiar species. In continental India there are only five peculiar species, and not one genus. The western Malay Islands (Indo-Malayan sub-region) have one peculiar genus, and eleven peculiar species; the Philippines, seven peculiar species; but the Australian region has no less than ten peculiar genera and fifty-nine peculiar species, or nearly half those of the whole world. The peculiarities of the island of Celebes are well shown by the kingfishers, for not only has it eight peculiar species and three peculiar genera, but one of the latter has affinities with an African genus. In discussing the general relations of this isolated group of birds to the rest of the order, and the mutual affinities of the genera, the conclusion is arrived at that they are most nearly allied to (although still very remote from) the hornbills; and their relations are expressed by a branching diagram, as well by a map of the genus on the plan of Professor Flower. A copious account of the literature of the family is also given, no less than 135 separate works being enumerated, with references to every species of kingfisher described or noticed in them. An elaborate paper on the anatomy of these birds by Dr. Murie, with a full index, completes this exceedingly valuable work, which will be equally acceptable to the naturalist for its detailed and accurate information, and to all who love nature for its beautiful and artistic illustrations.

Alfred R. Wallace


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