Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide

"Birds of South Asia" redirects here. For a list of the birds of South Asia, see List of birds of South Asia.
Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide
Author Pamela C. Rasmussen and John C. Anderton
Illustrator Anderton and eleven other artists
Cover artist Anderton
Country U.S.
Language English
Publisher Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
ISBN 84-87334-67-9 (both vols.)
84-87334-65-2 (vol. 1)
84-87334-66-0 (vol. 2)
OCLC 433009160

Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide by Pamela C. Rasmussen and John C. Anderton is a two-volume ornithological handbook, covering the birds of South Asia, published in 2005 (second edition in 2012) by the Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. The geographical scope of the book covers India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, the Chagos archipelago and Afghanistan (the latter country had been excluded from previous works covering this region). In total, 1508 species are covered (this figure includes 85 hypothetical and 67 'possible' species, which are given only shorter accounts). Two notable aspects of Birds of South Asia are its distribution evidence-base the book's authors based their distributional information almost completely on museum specimens and its taxonomic approach, involving a large number of species-level splits.

The books

Pamela Rasmussen

Volume 1 is a field guide. A nine-page introduction is followed by 180 colour plates, each with an accompanying text page giving brief identification notes, and, for most species, range maps. In addition to the 69 plates by Anderton, eleven other artists contributed, including Ian Lewington and Bill Zetterström. Volume 2: Attributes and Status contains more detailed supporting texts for every species. Twelve other authors are listed as having contributed to this volume, including Per Alström, Nigel Collar and Craig Robson. This volume opens with an appreciation, written by Bruce Beehler, of S. Dillon Ripley, who initiated the work which led to the book, and after whom it is named. This is followed by a 24-page introduction. The bulk of the book, from pages 41 to 601, consists of individual species accounts; each of these includes sections on identification, occurrence, habits and voice (this latter section accompanied by sonograms for many species). There are ten appendices, including a hypothetical list, a list of rejected species, a summary of taxonomic changes, a glossary, a gazetteer, and a list of institutions holding major collections of South Asian bird specimens.

The book's covers are illustrated by montages of South Asian birds, painted by Anderton. Volume 1 features crimson-backed flameback, stork-billed kingfisher, Indian eagle-owl, black-and-orange flycatcher and Himalayan quail on its front cover. Volume 2 features six laughingthrush species: variegated, Bhutan, grey-sided, blue-winged, black-chinned and Assam. The back covers of both volumes feature a painting of Serendib and Nicobar scops-owls.

Taxonomic changes

In preparing the book, the authors undertook a major revision of the taxonomic status of bird forms found in the region; many allopatric forms previously regarded as conspecific are treated by Rasmussen and Anderton as full species. Many of these had previously been proposed elsewhere, but the book introduced a number of innovations of its own.[1] The majority of these changes, and the overwhelming majority of the novel ones, are among the passerines. The following is a list of the groups of taxa which are considered conspecific in the sixth edition of the Clements Checklist (Clements 2007),[2][3] but split into two or more species in Rasmussen and Anderton's work (volume 2 page references in brackets).


Crested hawk-eagle


Jerdon's leafbird
Tibetan blackbird
Himalayan red-flanked bush-robin
Greenish warbler
Malabar white-headed starling

New South Asian endemic birds

White-cheeked nuthatch
See also Endemic birds of the Indian Subcontinent and Endemic birds of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The taxonomic changes proposed increase the number of South Asian endemic bird species, and the numbers of restricted-range endemic bird species in several of South Asia's Endemic Bird Areas. Using the taxonomic arrangements in Birds of South Asia, the following species are additional South Asian endemics:[24] Ceylon bay-owl, hill swallow, white-bellied and orange minivets, square-tailed black bulbul, Jerdon's leafbird, Indian blackbird, large blue flycatcher,[25] common babbler and Indian and white-cheeked nuthatches; the following are additional Indian endemics: crested hawk-eagle, grey-fronted green-pigeon, Malabar barbet, Malabar woodshrike, flame-throated bulbul, Nilgiri thrush, white-bellied blue robin, Naga wren-babbler, Indian yellow tit, Nilgiri flowerpecker and Malabar white-headed starling; the following are new Sri Lankan endemics: Ceylon green-pigeon, Ceylon small barbet, crimson-backed flameback, Ceylon swallow, Ceylon woodshrike, black-capped bulbul, Ceylon scaly thrush and Ceylon crested drongo; and the following are additional endemics in the Andaman/Nicobar islands: Nicobar imperial-pigeon, Andaman barn-owl, Hume's hawk-owl, Andaman cuckooshrike, Andaman bulbul, Nicobar jungle-flycatcher, Andaman shama and Andaman flowerpecker.


  1. Collar & Pilgrim (2008) includes an analysis of Rasmussen & Anderton's proposed changes, indicating which had previously been proposed by other authors, and which are novel.
  2. At the time of Birds of South Asia's publication, Clements was the most widely used world bird checklist; the sixth edition was published shortly after Birds of South Asia, and hence is used here as the best work to view the effect of Rasmussen & Anderton's proposals; when compared with earlier regional lists, such as the Oriental Bird Club checklist (Inskipp et. al. 1996), the effects are greater still.
  3. Rasmussen & Anderton do not split two pairs of taxa which are treated as separate species in Clements' sixth edition, MacQueen's and houbara bustards (vol 2, pp. 148-9), and carrion and hooded crows (vol 2, p. 599).
  4. This treatment had been followed in the first edition of Peters' checklist (Peters 1931) but not by most other 20th-century authors.
  5. McAllan & Bruce (1988) had previously adopted this treatment, but the two taxa had been regarded as conspecific by almost all other recent authors.
  6. The fifth edition of Clements' checklist (Clements 2000) treated these two taxa as distinct species, but they were lumped in the sixth edition
  7. A treatment previously proposed in the Conspectus of the ornithological fauna of the USSR (Stepanyan 1990), but not adopted widely in Europe or North America.
  8. Sympatric occurrence of the two putative species in the breeding season without interbreeding was first documented by Carey & Melville 1996.
  9. Rasmussen and Anderton made a firm decision to split Himalayan buzzard; they describe Japanese buzzard as "probably specifically distinct".
  10. A treatment previously proposed by Fleming et. al. 1984
  11. Rasmussen & Anderton treat three South Asian taxa (affinis, pompadora & chloropterus) as monotypic species, separate from the remainder of the "pompadour green-pigeon" complex (the name phayrei having priority for this group); this treatment is in line with Hussain (1958). They also state that two extralimital taxa (axillaris & aromaticus) are probably also better treated as separate species.
  12. König et. al. (1999) had earlier proposed this split.
  13. A treatment previously proposed in Wijesinghe (1994)
  14. The same conclusions were contemporaneously reached in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (Fishpool and Tobias 2005).
  15. A treatment previously proposed in Wells et. al. (2003)
  16. An arrangement previously proposed by Kryukov (1995). Rasmussen & Anderton use the names isabelline and rufous shrikes for Daurian and Turkestan shrikes, respectively.
  17. Rasmussen and Anderton made firm decisions to split Tibetan blackbird, and the simillimus group of southern races as Indian blackbird; in the case of mandarinus, they stated that this taxon probably deserved species status. In addition, they suggested that within the simillimus group, the Sri Lankan race kinnisii is also probably better treated as a separate species. The simillimus group had previously been treated as a full species in Henry (1971). However this treatment had not gained widespread acceptance: both Birds of the Western Palearctic (Cramp 1988) and the Oriental Bird Club checklist (Inskipp et. al. 1996) had retained these forms within common blackbird. Clement & Hathway (2000) had suggested that mandarinus and maximus probably deserved to be treated together as a separate species; again the OBC checklist had treated these as conspecific with common blackbird.
  18. The same conclusions were contemporaneously reached in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (Collar, 2005)
  19. A treatment previously recommended by Ivanov (1941), Panov (1999) and by the Taxonomic Advisory Committee of the Association of European Rarities Committees (AERC TAC 2003); the Collins Bird Guide (Svensson et. al. 1999) had also suggested that these two taxa may be separate species
  20. The treatment of nitidus as a full species is, however, described as "equivocal".
  21. The neglecta group is not formally split, but "is likely to comprise a third species".
  22. This treatment is in line with that proposed by the Taxonomic Advisory Committee of the Association of European Rarities Committees in 2003 (AERC TAC 2003); it had previously been anticipated, though not adopted, in the Collins Bird Guide (Svensson et. al. 1999)
  23. A treatment earlier proposed tentatively by Madge & Burn (1994)
  24. Compared against those listed in Clements' sixth edition (2007)
  25. Endemic as a breeder; winters in south-east Asia


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