The Australian Bird Guide
CSIRO Publishing, $49.95 pb, 576 pp, 9780643097544
With five illustrated field guides, two e-guide apps, and at least three photographic guides available to help people identify birds in Australia, some would question the need for yet another. The first field guide to Australian birds, written and illustrated by renowned bird artist Peter Slater, was published in 1970 and 1974 (two volumes). Since then, new guides have appeared roughly each decade. Given the purpose of field guides, good illustrations of each species are paramount, and these are invariably presented in plates, with a facing page of text pointing out the diagnostic characteristics of each species, and often a map showing where it occurs. Additional information on the species’ appearance, voice, habitat, distribution, and status are often provided in a separate section, and the ratio of such text to illustrated plates varies markedly among field guides around the world. The earlier Australian field guides tended to be overloaded with extraneous information, devoting as little as twenty per cent of their pages to illustrations, while more recent guides both here and overseas have moved towards fifty per cent plates, cramming all the relevant information onto the facing pages. A notable exception is the self-illustrated Michael Morcombe Field Guide to Australian Birds (2000), in which the nests and eggs of almost all Australian-breeding species are described and illustrated, an edifying but completely unnecessary addition to a field guide.