A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo


Every so often a field guide comes along that inspires a whole new group of birders to visit a country or region. This new book fits the bill for Borneo.

So what does it have going for it? Importantly, it covers just the island of Borneo, divided as it is between Malaysian Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan, which makes up the majority of the island, and the Kingdom of Brunei, in contrast to John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps’s Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali – for so long the best guide for the island, but covering a whole lot more besides.

The second big selling point is that text and illustrations are adjacent, so constant thumbing of pages from one to the other is not required. Typically, each spread covers four to six species, so information is crammed in, but isn’t that what we want for a usable field guide?

The text deals with identification, including the major subspecies, habitat, behaviour, voice, range (both within Borneo and regionally), status and breeding. The writing is concise and easy to follow. Where relevant, there is also a section for similar species – a very useful feature when so many of the birds are unfamiliar.

Each species entry includes a distribution map, which depicts breeding, non-breeding and passage distributions. The inclusion of national and provincial boundaries on the maps is a great help. The locations of extralimital records are shown with coloured ringlets. So, for example, the three records of Australian Pratincole are clearly marked on the map – very impressive. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all the maps, but I did some checks against the descriptive distributions in Clive Mann’s The Birds of Borneo and found them to be consistent.

This book is very comprehensive, describing and illustrating the 633 species reliably recorded in Borneo to 2008. The illustrations, by a team of 16 artists including Hilary Burn, Mike Langman, Ian Lewington and Jan Wilczur (and largely reused from elsewhere), are generally of a very good to excellent standard, although some of the pigeons look a bit ‘wooden’. Where distinctly different, many female and juvenile plumages are also portrayed.

The taxonomy is reasonably consistent with Mann (2008), although there are some name changes. For example, Mann’s Black-headed Pitta becomes Black-and-crimson Pitta in this guide. Additional features include a brief summary of habitat types, a list of endemics, maps of relief and protected areas and a list of references.

Informative, up-to-date, well illustrated and with the advantage of distribution maps, this is an excellent publication. I would strongly recommend it to any birder planning to visit this wonderful destination.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo by Susan Myers (New Holland Publishers, London, 2009).
• 272 pages, more than 1,600 colour illustrations and 630 maps.
• ISBN 9781847733467. Hbk, £24.99.

Available from the Birdwatch Bookshop