The Australian Bird Guide


At almost 1.5 kg, it’s perhaps wise this is called a ‘guide’ rather than a ‘field guide’, although the latter term is certainly used inside. The physical weight is matched by the content. It’s a fantastic collaborative work from three authors, three artists, a cartographer and a taxonomist. It’s also made clear just how extensively they’ve been able to draw on information, advice and images from countless others, underlining the value of online databases and galleries in modern ornithology.

The introductory sections cover familiar areas but are well worth a read: the discussion of the ethics of ‘pishing’ and playback is the best I’ve read anywhere, while a section on evolution and classification will get birders thinking.

In the main section of the book, the similarities to our own Collins guide will make a reassuring first impression on European birders. The arrangement of text, illustrations and maps is similar, as is the ordering of illustrations from juvenile to adult, along with the presentation of key ID features in italics.

The text is clear, well structured and authoritative. Following sections on identifying, ageing and sexing birds, the vocalisations are eloquently described, something not easily done with the often bizarre repertoire of Australian birds. The authors have succeeded in their aim “to describe something of the experience of observing each species”. A symbol to indicate the likelihood of seeing a species is incredibly simple and effective, but I’m left unconvinced by the argument for not including a measurement for the total length of a bird. The scale lines and series of other measurements will leave most birders trying to do mind-bending acts of mental arithmetic. This was the only thing I found patronising in the book – we all know such measurements need to be taken with a pinch of salt and with a few key species learnt for comparison it’s surely an easier way of doing things?

The plates are excellent. The birds are shown close enough to side profile for easy comparison, but with enough leeway in their positioning to give them character. I also found the colours and jizz of all but a handful to be spot on. I particularly liked some of the honeyeaters, grasswrens and babblers, which looked ready to fly off the page, and – at last! – a Scrubtit illustration that actually looks like one. For many species there are truly delightful vignettes; I wish there were more of them.

I was similarly impressed with the maps, which are particularly clear, being cropped and enlarged as appropriate where species have a restricted range. 

If you’re planning a trip ‘down under’ and you pick this up, you’ll likely baulk at its weight. Open this gorgeous book at a random page, however, and you’ll know it’s destined to go with you.

  • You can buy The Australian Bird Guide in our bookshop here.
Written by: Alan Pearson