Skutch was a diligent researcher and observer, and his attention to detail yielded insights about aspects of neotropical bird life that might have otherwise remained subject to conjecture for decades or more. But his popular writings are not dry academic monographs; Alexander Skutch loved the birds he studied and the tropical habitats in which he studied them, and that love is reflected in a style of writing that combines scientific precision with almost poetic eloquence.
As in the other volumes in a series of occasional volumes (covering hummingbirds, American flycatchers, pigeons, and woodpeckers), this work synthesizes Skutch’s ornithological precision with an affectionate examination of the known (as of 1989) aspects of the life histories of birds that were at that time treated as members of a single taxonomic family consisting of 230 species found exclusively in the New World. Included are informative observations regarding tanagers, shrike-tanagers, ant-tanagers, mountain-tanagers, bush-tanagers, thrush-tanagers, palm-tanagers, magpie-tanagers, honeycreepers & dacnises, euphonias & chlorophonias, and conebills.
The writing is entertaining and informative. The illustrations by Dana Gardner are (as would be expected) very good, and they’re not simply “field guide art”. Twenty-six species are depicted in color portraits, portrayed “in nature”, and numerous line drawings (figures) usefully supplement the text.
Tables document known incubation patterns, clutch size, incubation periods, nestling (fledging) periods, parental feeding rates, and nesting success (alarmingly low, with threats from predators and brood parasites, among others).
Interestingly, at least three different publishers produced volumes in this “series”.. Subtle differences distinguish each volume from others in the “series”, but for the most part all five volumes conform to a familiar and accessible format.