Book review: The Australian Bird Guide by Menkhorst et al.

Title: The Australian Bird Guide
Authors: Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack, Kim Franklin

Australia benefits from a lot of good bird field guides. While we were there, we used Pizzey and Knight pretty much the whole time. On our trip to Northern Queensland, Martin Cachard of Solar Whisper Cruises told us about a new book: The Australian Bird Guide. Like pretty much all guides out there, they dare call themselves “The” Guide. Well, I think perhaps this time they are right.

This book is a true masterpiece. The illustrations are some of the best I’ve seen (see the official page for a sample). I love just browsing this book to look at all the beautiful birds I’ll hopefully see soon. Moreover, for each bird there are many different illustrations: the typical poses, in flight, in various environment, and various other poses tailored for each specific bird. The illustrations often have lines pointing to various crucial identification features, and the colours are accurate and vivid.

Each bird features a description for various stages of life and voice calls. Incidentally, some people have questioned whether it’s useful to have voice calls in written form, given the huge variety in the sounds birds can make. Well, I’m here to tell you that it actually is useful, especially when deciding between a couple of similar-looking birds that have quite different calls. And of course birds like the Wompoo Fruit Dove are pretty accurately described.

Martin also told us it this book was like HANZAB but in compact, pocket form (and just for Australian birds). I have not actually used HANZAB but this book does contain notes for each bird that provides extra details not strictly necessary for identification. Each page starting a new family also has a helpful paragraph or two about that family. There is also a wonderful article on the evolution and classification of Australian birds as well as a short guide on identifying birds.

There is only one thing that is slightly odd about this book, and that is the index. They don’t provide entries under the usual General Bird Type/Specific Bird type heading: for example, you can’t look under Bristlebird to get subentries for Western, Rufous, and Eastern Bristlebird. They do provide a supplementary downloadable file that you can just insert into your book, or possible the revised edition coming out next month has this more usable index?

Of course, with all this wonderful information, I would not use it as quick field guide for initial identification. It is even bigger than Pizzey and Knight and contains so much information (such as vagrants mixed in with the regular birds) it would be overwhelming in that regard. Rather, it is more like the final word on bird identification, to be used once you’ve got home, already identified most of the birds in the car with a more compact field guide, and need a little extra information to help you decide between Fairy Tern and Little Tern.

The Australian Bird guide is superb, and I highly recommend it. Happy birding!

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