Field guides : reviews
• The ninth edition of the Pizzey and Knight Field guide to the Birds of Australia was released on 28th August 2012. An electronic version of this definitive bird guide has recently been released for the first time.
• Steve Parish and CSIRO Publishing are working on a new field guide. A review will appear once a copy has been studied. Publication may still be many months off.
• Details of an e Guide by Michael Morcombe and David Stewart was recently added to this page: the eGuide is proving very popular with many birders.
• This page covers only some of the many bird books/guides available. Books on specific birds, e.g. Australian Magpie, are not reviewed on this site.
K Stockwell, Webmeister, September 2012.
Graham Pizzey and Frank
Knight, The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia
The ninth edition of Pizzey and Knight's Field Guide to the Birds Of Australia was released in August 2012. After Graham Pizzey's death, editions of the guide were upgraded by Peter Menkhorst. The ninth edition has been edited and upgraded by Graham's daughter Sarah. First published in 1980, the Pizzey and Knight guide combines a depth and breadth of knowledge with colour illustrations by Frank Knight. The species entries are ordered as per the new taxonomic order of Dr. Les Christidis and Dr. Walter Bowles. It has been brought up-to-date with the inclusion of a number of new species, encompassing significantly more vagrants which have their own discrete section toward the back of the book. It contains a longer Quick Reference Guide than the 8th edition, spanning over a few pages, with presenting images alongside the species group names. Some of the illustrations have been changed from those that appeared in earlier editions, and the lime green colour used on the maps and side bars is more pleasing to the eye than the blue colour used in the first edition. Several of the maps have been amended from those that appeared in the first edition. Harper-Collins, Publishers; to $45.
An electronic edition has also been produced.
a recent survey of ornithological field guides, Pizzey and Knight
was rated best'
Michael Morcombe, Field
Guide to Australian Birds: complete compact edition
A few years back, Michael
Morcombe has emailed to advise of the release of a new compact edition (about same size as Slater's) for the many users
who wished for a smaller size: "It has over 800 species,
most subspecies, many new maps, and some features which I think
could be unique world-wide such as a quick-guide page at beginning
of each of of 26 family group chapters. It's on my web site,
in more detail with picas: www.mmbirds.com".
to an enthusiast, the new compact edition has many good features,
size and little weight
guides inside the front and back covers
page marker ribbon
introductions to family groups, drawn to scale
information and coloured dots
raptor comparison plates
Wishing to clarify an earlier comment on this page, Mr. Morcombe emailed the following information early in August of 2011: "The first printing was on rather thick paper, we reprinted after that (2005 onward) on paper of similar thickness to other guides, and since then has been slightly thinner and fractionally lighter than Slater, which also has grown heavier and thicker in its second edition.
"The maps are with few exceptions correct by the Birds Australia Atlases, HANZAB, and many other references. Map complaints mainly originated by a very few who did not understand the pale tint colour for rare and vagrant records. The other guides have all increasingly followed using pale tint in similar way now for many of their Maps. eGuide maps are updated versions.
"Both large and compact versions roughly similar popularity and sales, the larger appealing to users for in-car/in-house use, the smaller by those more active in field work, carrying scopes, cameras. The smaller version is more detailed, more on races, flight comparisons, and more the serious-birders version"
Michael Morcombe and David Stewart, The Michael Morcombe eGuide to Australian Birds
This app contains images, maps and texts from the compact edition outlined above plus the calls of over 650 species by David Stewart of "Nature Sound". The app can be downloaded to iPhone, iPod Touch, iPod and some other devices. The eGuide is to be updated from time to time and upgrades are likely to be free. BOCA members who have been using this app have found it to be useful in the field.
Early in August 2011, Michael Morcombe sent the following by email:
"The eGuide has very recently also been released for the Android smart phones, e.g. the noise, Samsung, Motorolas and the many others using Google's Android phone operating system. Until now, only available for Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. And the price, which seems to be set by those sellers, is reduced to just under $30. It's a small fraction of price of combined book plus calls CDs."
"From correspondence and internet chatter, seems quite a few are using it in the field in place of a book. There are many updates compared with any of the books, e.g. latest names, C & B (Christidis and Boles) order and list, many new and more detailed maps. A new version 1.1 is in preparation, new features, updates, for both apple and android versions, and free by download to all owners."
Mr Morcombe emailed the following advice in January 2012:
"A recent new version of the eGuide (a free download to existing users) has several new abilities, including downloading or emailing out of user bird sightings list, and new cal l playback controls. Plus correction of some publisher errors in transposing text etc from book to eguide.
"A coming new version is for the iPad. At present, the eGuide will work on the ipad, with choice of small size same as iPhone, or full screen. There's a 1x / 2x size switch at bottom RH of screen . At 2x, full screen, the text is not quite sharp.
"A new version will have a layout especially for ipad, to make much better use of the large screen. Especially improved is the "Compare" feature, where many more illustrations are compared side by side than on the smaller iphone screen. When the app is downloaded, it will automatically select the iphone or ipad mode of display. And all sharp...
"While the iPad is much larger than the iphone, its only about same page size as largest of field guides, but only about a centimetre in thickness, and far lighter than any guide book. There are protective rubber and waterproof covers so it can be used in rain and , apparently, even underwater (so it seems.). So use in field carried in a bag over shoulder, is on par with a book, and much more readable than the iPhone. It will also do most things ordinarily done on a laptop computer.
Michael Morcombe, Field
Guide to Australian Birds
Released earlier than the compact edition, this field guide
took Michael around 14 years to prepare.
It is similar in content to Pizzey and Knight, Simpson and Day,
and Slater, but contains a wonderful section on identifying bird
nests. The drawings
are by Mr. Morcombe himself. The book was published by Steve Parish and may
be available through outlets which sell Steve Parish's cards
and calendars. However, this guide may be hard to obtain as stocks were destroyed by the floods that swept much of Brisbane in 2011.
Ken Simpson and Nicholas
Day, Field Guide to the Birds of Australia
50 writers and illustrators contributed to this publication which
has undergone many editions and revisions since it was first
published over 20 years ago. It is similar to both the Morcombe
and Pizzey guides insofar as it has location maps, descriptions
and colour drawings. Toward the back of the guide is an informative
section on nesting behaviour. Available from CSIRO Publishing.
Slater, Slater and Slater, The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds
Unlike the Simpson & Day or Pizzey & Knight guides,
the Slater Guide will fit into a large pocket and can, therefore,
be more easily carried into the field. It is thinner and narrower.
It is possibly used more often in the field than any of the other
guides. In 2009, a revised edition was published, claiming to describe and illustrate all birds so far recorded in Australia: more than 750 species. There are 200 painted plates. The book has a 'waterproof' cover. Only the
Morcombe compact edition can be as easily carried
in the field. Available through CSIRO Publishing and most book shops
Jim Flegg and N Longmore
(eds), Readers Digest Photographic Field Guide Birds of Australia
volume contains photographs from the Australian Museum rather
than drawings. On the page opposite the photographs, there is
a note on each species and a distribution map. Unfortunately,a
few of the captions under the photographs are incorrect and this
is confusing especially since it is often an unfamiliar bird
that one wishes to identify. Hopefully, this has been corrected
since the original edition was published in 1994. Otherwise,
this is a very good publication similar in size to Simpson and
Day, Pizzey and Knight and Morcombe.
are fortunate to have at least four excellent field guides, five
if the Readers Digest guide (photos of birds rather than sketches)
is included. Add to these the increasing number of "coffee
table" books on Australian birds and books which specialise
in certain species, e.g. Night Birds, and birds of particular
Birds Australia, New
Atlas of Australian Birds
Some years ago, the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union
(now BirdLife Australia) published an atlas showing the location
of Australian birds. Over 7,000 volunteers covered the Australian
island-continent and offshore waters, completing thousands of
bird surveys for this new atlas which was released late in 2003.
A large book best used to supplement one of the above guides.
The illustrations are not in full colour.
HANZAB is a detailed set of volumes on
the birds of Australia and areas beyond. It has been published
by Birds Australia (now BirdLife Australia) in conjunction with Oxford University Press.
A 'must have' for the true enthusiast. There are notes and illustrations
on 956 species of birds which live in Australia, New Zealand
and Antarctica or surrounding waters. Each of the seven volumes
(Volume 7 comprises two bound sections) contains hundreds of
pages. The recommended retail price for the set is around $3,275 but
some retailers offer a discount of up to 20%.
A number of works on birds
by other authors have been published and most are excellent but
more specialised. Some are 'coffee table size'.
CSIRO Publishing offers a wide range of bird books for sale on-line. Click here to see the birding books currently available for sale.
Tim Dolby and others, Where to See Birds in Victoria
Where to See Birds in Victoria outlines forty of Victoria's better birding localities, including Terricks, Wyperfeld, Hattah-Kulkyne, Chiltern, the Otway Ranges and Mount Buffalo. The book suggests where to look for particular species. As far as Terricks goes, it paints an optimistic a picture of what might be observed because the 1995-2010 drought has had a devastating impact: it will take many years for bird numbers to fully recover. Victoria provides habitat for at least 500 bird species. CSIRO Publishing. RRP $35.
Richard and Sarah Thomas, David Andrews and Alan McBride,
The Complete Guide to finding the Birds of Australia
The earlier edition of 'Thomas and Thomas' were used by hundreds of keen birders over the years and helped birders observe some of Australia's rarer and more-elusive species. Thanks to the efforts of David Andrews and Alan McBride, a second (2011) edition brings the work up-to-date. As far as the greater Echuca area is concerned, the spots recommended are not necessarily the most-reliable sites (e.g. for Superb Parrot). Local areas included in the second edition (and covered on other pages of this site) include Terrick Terrick National Park and Goschen Reserve. Available from CSIRO Publishing.
Sean Dooley, Anoraks
to Zitting Cisticola
After having completed
'The Big Twitch', Sean Dooley was asked lots of questions about birdwatching.
Anoraks to Zitting Cisticolas sets out to explain what bird watching
is all about, with definitions and comments on lots of bird-watching
terms. This book might be best appreciated by beginners but experienced
bird observers will find lots to chuckle over and contemplate. Having
read the book, I might have to prove guilty to having a case of Ausbirder's
Some of the terms defined
and discussed include Blocker, Buntie, Captain Twitchpants, Crippler,
Dead cert (not), Dip, Dude and Endemic.
dude, incidentally, is sometimes described as a Punter or Wombat,
terms which do not appear in this book.
to Zitting Cisticola is worth reading irrespective or whether or not you are a birder.
Sean Dooley, The Big Twitch
comedy writer Sean Dooley took a year off so he could try to
break the Australian twitching record: he aimed to observe over
700 species over the course of 12 months. The quest took him
all over the continent and much time was spent trying to track
down uncommon and elusive species. To catch uncommon species,
Sean sometimes flew from one side of the continent to another.
book has proved very popular with bird observers. It will help
non-birders to understand, perhaps, how bird observers can and
do travel great distances in order to observe a particular bird.
Birders will enjoy reading a special forward which non-birders
are asked not to read. Birders are asked not to read the introduction
for non-birders. But do.
Big Twitch is a great read.
Jim Castles, Gary Deayton, Don Roberts et al, Broken Boosey & Goldfields Birds
This spiral bound book covers birds of the plains and Box-Ironbark regions of he Goulburn Broken Catchment. Most of the featured birds are also found around Echuca-Moama. Several government departments and non-government bodies worked together with the Broken Boosey Conservation Management Network and the Whroo Goldfields Conservation Management Network to produce this booklet which is aimed at land managers.
Gisela Kaplan and Lesley Rogers, Birds:
their habits and skills
Did you know that galahs
rear their young in crèches or that female zebra finches
can identify the voice of their father? These are just a few
of the interesting facts in this amazing book about bird behaviour.
It is a great book for those interested in native birds because
it supplements field guides such as the Morcombe Guide or the
Pizzey Guide mentioned above.
of the claims made in this work have been questioned recently
on "BirdingAus", an Internet email forum, e.g. is there
sufficient evidence that some lyrebirds imitate a chain saw.
Some forum contributors have argued that claims made in this
text should be more clearly attributed to the source material.
Perhaps some of these criticisms can be addressed if a second
edition is ever published. These criticisms should not deter
one from purchasing the work.
David Hollands, Owls:
journeys around the world
The book describes
an odyssey by David Hollands, who visited 12 sites and six continents
to photograph owls.
work deals with 21 species of the 205 owl species. David's photography
is magnificent. Published
by Bloomings Books, Melbourne and available from the author and from book stores throughout Australia.
David Hollands and Clive Minton, Waders: the Shorebirds of Australia
Author and photographer David Hollands teamed up with wader expert Clive Minton to produce a comprehensive book about 80 species of waders that are found in Australia. The book contains 350 photographs. It can be ordered direct from Mr Hollands; email <firstname.lastname@example.org> This book was first released in October 2012. Recommended retail price is $59.95.
David Hollands, Owls, Frogmouths and Nighjars of Australia
This book contains notes and 190 photographs of every Australian species of owl, frogmouth and nightjar. Available from the author and from book stores throughout Australia for around $50 plus postage.
Joseph Forshaw, Mark Shephard et al, Grassfinches in Australia
This text is a fully-illustrated monograph on all species of Australian grassfinches. It was released by CSIRO Publishing in August 2012 and retails at $185. It is also available as an eBook.
Greg Richards, Les Hall and Steve Parish, Birds of Prey of Australia
Many bird observers have great difficulty distinguishing between different birds of prey. This book has been fully revised and updated, and was released in September 2012 by CSIRO Publishing. Split images are used to show differences between similar-looking raptors.
Don Hadden, Birds of the Outback
Don has spent many years in the north of Western Australia photographing birds. His book, Birds of the Outback, contains many great photographs.
Books have been published on Owls, Magpies, Bowerbirds and many other Australian birds. Many can be purchased on line from CSIRO Publishing or from many Australian book shops.
Note: A number of brochures and booklets have been published featuring birds of various regions. Brochures on the birds of Echuca-Moama and of the Gunbower area are available from local visitor information centres. Mid Murray Field Naturalists Club recently released a great booklet on birds of the Swan Hill-Mildura-Lake Boga area: it is available through some tourist information centres along the Murray downstream of Kerang to Mildura.
Return to top of page