I first became obsessed with birds when I was in primary school. I got a pet cockatiel and set about learning as much as possible about cockatoos. I learned the scientific name of many of my favourite species such as cockatiels, galahs and rosellas.
Ten-year-old me struggled. I devoured what few books our local library had growing up. This is the type of book I would have really enjoyed. The authors explain the history behind the scientific names for the families, species and orders of Australian birds. These histories explore the challenge new naturalists faced, the previous names and the influence of the indigenous names for species. It is packed with so many information that a reader would likely learn something new with each reading.
How is the book structured?
The book is separated into two main ‘chapters’: passerines and non-passerines. A ‘passerine’ is a bird that belongs to the order Passeriformes; an order that comprises of two-thirds of living birds in the world. The remaining orders were combined into their own chapter. In both chapters, the various species are then organized into their family. The order is listed next to the family name.
The species in each family section is then organized into genus and species. Information about the bird names is given for family, species and genus. All the genera are listed at the start of the section, which can be overwhelming for the new reader. There also is no page breaks after each family.
What information is given about each species?
The book covers all of the species of birds in Australia, including the extinct ones. This is an amazing feat when you consider that 55 species had been adding to the national list in the 6 years between the publication of the first and second editions. The species information lists their common name, scientific names and other names they would be known by. All three types of names are given descriptions. In some cases, such as the crimson rosella, the authors discuss the names of the more prominent subspecies. These descriptions vary in length
It is meticulously researched; the authors went through a lot of historical records. Readers will learn how the names changed over time and how the current species names came into use. For instance, the name ‘paradise parrot’ was chosen as a marketing term. It’s the type of book you need to delve into over multiple sittings.
Do I recommend this book?
Sadly, no. It is a great book and one that you can learn a lot from, however, it isn’t essential reading. The beginner birdwatcher would get a lot more out of 1-2 dedicated field guides and a guide to finding birds in their region.
I do recommend this book as a gift. It brings so much joy and would remain in any naturalists library for a long time. It just isn’t the most practical purchase for the amateur naturalist.