INTRODUCTION

INTRODUCTION.

THE present volume of Birds in the ' Fauna of British India ' Series is the seventh and last but one, containing the synonymy of all the genera, species, and subspecies included in the first five volumes, together with a few of those contained in the sixth. The final half-volume, VIII., will contain the remaining synonymy, the Corrigenda and Addenda, together with an index to the whole of the synonymy.

It has been the aim of the author of the Avifauna to produce a work which should be scientifically up to date at the time of writing, yet completed and brought out within the shortest time compatible with this object. It has, therefore, often been impossible to work out nomenclatorial puzzles or, in a few instances, to verify the status of certain species and subspecies without causing delay which would have defeated this object. As, however, nomenclature has been studied pari passu with the progress of the work, it is hoped that the Corrigenda and Addenda will contain most of the corrections necessary to it.

When sanction was first given to a second edition of the Birds of British India being brought out, it was hoped to include descriptions of all the Birds, including field-notes, etc., within the limits of five volumes, provided that the synonymy was omitted. It was soon seen, however, that even for this a sixth volume would be necessary, and this was at once sanctioned. Shortly after this, in response to a very general demand, it was decided that a yet further volume should be added, to contain the Synonymy, Corrigenda and Addenda. The synonymy, however, has proved to be more extensive than was anticipated, and it has therefore been found necessary for sanction to be given to produce another half-volume, VIII., the pages of which will be consecutive with those of Vol. VII., whilst the index to the whole will be given in the latter. This final volume, which is already written, will, it is hoped, be brought out almost immediately.

The writing of the new edition was commenced by the author about January 1921, whilst the last o£ the six volumes containing the Birds was published in March 1929, the six volumes having been completed in eight years.

During the time the author has been employed upon this work, other ornithologists have been busy both in the Field and in the Museum, and much excellent work has been done, notably by Messrs. Ticehurst, Whistler, Osmaston, and Meinertzhagen in the North and North-West, by Wait in Ceylon, and in the Bast by Messrs. "Robinson, Kloss, La Touche, and others, who have done much important work. All these ornithologists have made collections of bird-skins which have been most beautifully prepared, with full data, and these have been of immense value in enabling the owners, as well as others, to work out geographical races. Much of the material, especially that of earlier dates, in the British Museum and other collections consists of specimens which were badly made up, not sexed, and often with insufficient data. In some cases types which had been mounted specimens in galleries, and which were greatly faded, were unmounted and wisely put away, though these had already so greatly altered in colour that they were almost useless for purposes of comparison. On account of these difficulties the author, more especially when working on the Timaliidae, often found that, though it was obvious that certain species ought to be separated into two or more races, he was unable to differentiate between them on the material available. For instance, it was fairly easy to see that the majority of the birds in Kashmir and the North-West of India were, generally speaking, paler and brighter than those from the rest of India, but, to finally settle a question of this kind, more specimens, in better and fresher condition, were absolutely necessary.

The Addenda contain 54 species and subspecies, divided as follows:—Newly described, 33 ; old forms previously described and now resuscitated, 7 ; newly discovered within Indian limits, 14 ; omitted originally by mistake, 1.

On the other hand two subspecies have been eliminated, so that the total net addition to the Avifauna is 53. Adding these to the number of species and subspecies described in the first six volumes, we have a total of 2346 occurring within the Indo-Burmese countries. Dr. Hartert in his wonderful work on the Palaearctic Avifauna recorded only 3198 species and subspecies for the whole of the Palaearctic Region, whilst Sclater in his two volumes of ' Systema Avium Aethiopicarum' admits 4561 for the Aethiopian Region, a comparison which shows the extraordinary wealth of bird-life in the Eastern Tropics.

Besides the Addenda, it will be seen that the Corrigenda contain a very large number of alterations to the scientific names, a fact undoubtedly much to be regretted, yet at the same time imperative. At the time the names were employed these were generally accepted by naturalists, but much work has been done recently in nomenclature, and accordingly many current names have been altered for various reasons. Principal among these reasons for corrections has been the discovery of prior names antedating those in use, or the fact that certain names were invalidated on account of their having been previously used for a different species. These mistakes in names have in some cases been discovered by the author and in some by other workers ; but to Mr. Tom Iredale credit is due for the vast majority of the corrections now made, and the help of this gentleman has been simply invaluable.

Admittedly this extensive change in names will give the present generation of Field-workers, as well as Museum-naturalists, no little trouble, and to minimise this as much as possible the author would strongly recommend every owner of the volumes on ; The Avifauna of British India' to go carefully through the Corrigenda and correct from them the names in the first six volumes wherever necessary. Use is second nature, in ornithology as in everything else, so it is therefore most desirable that the correct name should be the one seen in everyday use.

Volume VIII. will be really nothing more than the completion of Volume VII., and will therefore contain no further introduction ; so, before closing this one, it is perhaps well that an answer should be given to the many younger brother ornithologists and field-naturalists who have asked the author what work there is left to be done in India besides learning what is already written about the various birds. The answer is : there is still an enormous field for work left to the workers of the present day. In the first place the nidification and habits of some three to four hundred species and subspecies are still blank pages. Migration is still very little understood, whilst the difference between "winter resident" and '"spring and autumn bird of passage" requires much further investigation. Many birds pass through Northern India on migration whose final destination is not yet definitely known. Some o£ these pass straight through to Ceylon and the extreme south of India, others seem to migrate westwards, whilst yet others come into the north-west of India and travel south-east. Carefully recorded dates of arrivals and departures of migrants, if collected in proper form, will provide solutions to many questions now unanswered.

The plumage of the young birds still affords a wide field for investigation by ornithologists, although Ticehurst has recently greatly enlarged our knowledge on this subject. Doubtless as we learn more about immature plumage this will form an even more important character than it does now in the classification of birds.

Much yet remains to be learnt about the Pterylosis of many groups of Birds, whilst the anatomy and musculature of many others still awaits investigation. As both Pterylosis and Anatomy are, admittedly, leading characters in the classification of Birds, Field-naturalists can help greatly by obtaining specimens in all stages of plumage and keeping them in spirits for examination by the Museum-naturalist. This branch of work is one which has been greatly neglected by Field-workers, though its importance is one which can hardly be over-estimated, Field-naturalists, who often seem to think that their work is considered subordinate to that of the Museum-worker, should remember that the latter without the help of the former can do nothing at all. At the same time, the observer and collector in the field cannot carry out comparing and classification of the Aves, simply because he has neither the material nor the literature available. The work of Museum-workers and Field-naturalists is absolutely interdependent, and one cannot work satisfactorily without the other. The Museum-worker has to have all his work and all his material obtained for him and, in order that his deductions may be sound and his conclusions correct, it is essential that all skins collected by Field-workers should be accompanied by the most ample data possible. Sexing should be invariably carried out with the greatest care; colours of soft parts must be noted when fresh; localities must be given and, finally, to all this information should be added elevation or any other useful notes the collector can think of. The date, naturally, is always given.

In India a difficulty has to be faced by systematic ornithologists which is inherent to zoological investigation everywhere, though more especially in all tropical countries ; this is the fact that two or more geographical races are often found occupying the same countries in winter. To ascertain the facts concerning geographical variation, birds are of no value unless obtained in their breeding area and, even then, cruel as it may seem, they are not of much use unless obtained when breeding. Many local birds breed at a time when allied geographical races are still passing through their districts on migration, or which have not yet deserted their cold-weather haunts. These, if they breed near by, often have the organs of reproduction much enlarged before they actually migrate, so that the greatest care must always be taken before the word " breeding " is actually written upon the data-ticket. It should, in fact, be seldom written unless the bird is shot off its nest or actually in the company of its young.

Before bidding farewell to his readers the author would like to apologize for the numerous uncorrected mistakes which undoubtedly still remain in his work. As investigation and research goes on these will gradually come to light. All that is now hoped is that the present work will form a new basis upon which others may continue the fascinating study of Ornithology, remembering always that the study of this particular branch is one which, like all others if properly conducted, may help us to understand the far greater problem of creation and evolution.

The classification adopted has been mainly that of Mr. Pycraft for the Pico-Passeres and wholly, or almost wholly, that of Dr. P. Lowe for the Charadriidae. Although, however, the author has interfered as little as possible with the arrangement of the various groups made in the first edition of the Fauna, his sincere thanks are due to these two gentlemen for the assistance received from their many works on the subject.

Finally, his thanks are due to those who have helped him in his work. To the late Sir Arthur Shipley's constant help and careful editing the first volumes owed much and, in the later volumes, there has been no second proof reader to take his place. The authorities in the British Museum have extended—as they always do—unlimited and most patient aid in every respect ; indeed, without their help, their fine library and still finer collections, the volumes could hardly have been written. Every official, from Dr. Percy Lowe and his colleague Mr. N. B. Kinnear to the last-joined assistant in the Bird-Room, have given their services not only with kindness, but with alacrity. If I may be allowed to single out any name for especial thanks, that of Mr. Thomas Wells may be selected, for upon him perhaps more than upon anyone else the author has relied for the prompt production of specimens and books, and it must have taken the exercise of wonderful patience to stand as cheerfully as he has done the constant and irritating interruptions to his own work.

E. C. STUART BAKER,

6 Harold Road, London, S.E. 19, March 31st, 1930.

BookTitle: 
The Fauna Of British India, Including Ceylon And Burma-birds. Synonymy(second Edition)
Reference: 
Baker, EC S (1922–1930) The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Second edition. vol.7 1930.
Title in Book: 
INTRODUCTION
Book Author: 
Edward Charles Stuart Baker
Year: 
1930
Page No: 
1
Volume: 
Vol. 7
id: 
5321

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith