Handbook Of Australian, New Zealand And Antarctic Birds: Volume 6: Pardalotes To Shrike-Thrushes
OUP, $395 hb, 1225 pp
According to my dictionary, a handbook is ‘a short manual or guide-book’. Somebody ought to inform the ornithological world of this, because ‘handbook’ has come to be applied to huge, multi-volume compendia about the bird faunas of particular regions. These books aim to present clearly and concisely all available knowledge about each species, drawing together observations and data from innumerable scientific journals, books, museum specimens, and field notes of scientists and bird watchers. Inevitably, they are massive compilations, running to thousands of pages. They certainly cannot be carried easily. However, they have developed a tradition of fine scholarship and precise writing and illustration, building on the high standards set by the first such work, the four-volume Handbook of British Birds (Witherby et al. 1938–41). Their contribution to bird research and conservation has been immense.
Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic ornithologists are now close to completing a twenty-year endeavour to produce their own ‘handbook’, and are certainly maintaining the scholarly and artistic standards (and dimensions). What makes this all the more remarkable is that this handbook has been produced by a community group, Birds Australia, and that more than eight million dollars have been raised through private donations and sponsorships to complete the project. The size and cost of the project is conveyed by its workforce. Volume 6 alone employed six artists, fifteen section editors, two senior editors and two assistant editors. A further ninety-two reviewers gave freely of their time and expertise.