There are multiple books on Australian birds of prey. I’ve reviewed many of them on this blog. Yet until recently, there hadn’t been a comprehensive overview of all raptor species.
Australasian Eagles and Eagle-like Birds solves part of this problem. The author, Stephen Debus, has been studying and observing Australia’s raptor species for over 40 years. He provides a comprehensive overview of the latest research on the Australiasian eagles and eagle-like birds.
The book is a much needed contribution to the literature about birds of prey and is one that I highly recommend.
How Is The Book Structured?
Australasian Eagles and Eagle-like Birds focuses on the species found in Australasia – which in this case, is restricted to the Melanesia region. This means that you get just 6 local species:
- White bellied sea eagle
- Wedge tailed eagle
- Little eagle
- Square tailed kite
- Black breasted buzzard
- Red goshawk
This may be a deterrent to those who are primarily interested in the local species. However, the chapters on Australian species contain significantly more information that those found in other regions.
The book is organized into four parts:
- Sea Eagles
- Harpy Eagles
- Booted eagles
- Australian Eagle-like Hawks Each species gets a dedicated chapter.
The chapters cover habitat, population, movements, food, social organization, social behaviour, breeding, measurements, weights and sexing. The chapters have minimal notes on identification; often around half a page. I would recommend Birds of Prey of Australia if you need more help with identifying eagles.
The Book Is Technical
Australasian Eagles and Eagle-like Birds is targeted towards the scientific community. It is assumed that you have existing knowledge about bird biology. The language can get quite technical and studies are frequently cited. This is necessary given the context of the book, but can overwhelm the casual reader.
A lot of the information is unnecessary for the amateur. There are sections that would be useful for the birdwatcher or photography, but you need to skim a lot to find them. I would recommend that beginners borrow this book from the library to decide if it meets their current needs.
It Is A Must-Read For Raptor Researchers
The book may not have been beginner friendly, but this beginner was still able to see just how brilliant this guide is.
Debus provides an overview of recent research and where research is lacking. He discusses how the knowledge has changed over time – such as the comparison between the historical and current threats of the square tailed kite. He shares information that you normally wouldn’t find in any other guide, such as little eagle habitat varying according to location.
It is designed to compliment, but not replace, the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB). Debus frequently refers to how his studies align with, or disproves, the inferences in HANZAB, or when
Do I recommend it?
I wouldn’t recommend this guide for beginners. The technical language and sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. I would recommend Birds Of Prey Of Australia for new birdwatchers.
It is a must-read for anybody studying birds of prey – however it can be useful for other audiences.I would recommend it for those who have a strong interest in eagles. It would be useful to help figure out what observations may be of scientific interest.
It would also be very useful to those who spend a lot of time photographing eagles. The sections on agnostic behaviour, courtship and sexual behaviour can provide ideas about what to photograph. Often, these sections are accompanied by images. These behaviours aren’t featured in the field guides as they aren’t relevant to identification.