What Birdo is That?: A field guide to bird people
Melbourne University Publishing, $40 pb, 272 pp
Eminent ecological historian Libby Robin has produced a curious book that examines the changing interests and roles played by those Australians who ‘notice birds and feel they need our help’. She aims to examine the rise of the nature conservation movement in Australia, using ‘Australia’s bird-people’ as a sample of Australians with a love of nature.
The catchy title pays homage to Australia’s (and in some ways the world’s) first bird field guide, Neville Cayley’s bestselling What Bird Is That?, first published in 1931 and found in a remarkable proportion of Australian households thereafter. I wondered at the use of the term ‘birdo’, which, in my experience, is not widely used.
Robin identifies three groups of bird-people to illustrate the range of interests and involvement: amateur birdos; professional zoologists; and birdscapers, who deliberately provide habitat for birds in their gardens. Of course, these categories are not mutually exclusive; many birdos are also birdscapers, and professional zoologists are frequently all three.