Review: Pizzey and Knight’s “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”

Under review is the 9th edition of “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, edited by Sarah Pizzey. It describes virtually every bird that can be seen in Australia including vagrants. Chances are, any bird you see will be in this book.

It contains excellent colour illustrations by Frank Knight. Each species is accompanied by a description of its appearance, voice, habitat, breeding times, eggs, and range and ecological status. The range is supplanted by a clear distribution map. To aid in finding a bird, the front and back cover contain a quick finding guide. The last part of the book contains short descriptions of all the bird families in Australia, which makes for interesting reading and can give additional valuable clues for identification. At 608 pages, it is perfect for short walks or the car, though it may be too heavy for some on longer backpacking treks into the outback.

Finding a species is usually easy. When the illustrations don’t provide enough for identification, often the hints in the text do. There were only a few types of birds that were difficult to identify. One is the family Charadriidae. For example, I could not distinguish between the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and I only came to a conclusion after consulting a specialised shorebird book.

Another type of cryptic birds are terns. Distinguishing terns is notoriously difficult and most of the time I give up. In the book, some of the terns are illustrated standing, flying from above and flying from below, but not all, which is frustrating. Then again, tern plumage is varied and never constant on an individual, so even illustrations from a given angle may not be enough for a definitive answer. To this end I have ordered an additional book on seabirds to see if I can improve my luck with terns. Ideally, I’d love an additional section for these tough groups including additional illustrations, descriptions, and photographs, though I understand that this may make the book too large.

Despite these few difficulties, the guide is detailed, accurate, and fun to browse. In summary, it is superb for anyone interested in finding and identifying Australian birds. Highly recommended.