| Yang Liu & Chen Shuihua | Princeton University Press | 2023 | Paperback | 688 Pages | 4000 colour illustrations, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780691237527 | £34.99p |

The Publisher’s View:

China is home to some of the most spectacular birdlife to be found anywhere in the world. This richly illustrated field guide covers every species found throughout the region, including numerous endemic and globally threatened species. Detailed species accounts cover everything from biometrics and habitat to behaviour, distribution, and voice, and each one comes with illustrations of the species and a colour distribution map. A landmark achievement, Birds of China is the ideal companion for travellers to China and a must for any birder’s bookshelf.

  • Covers nearly 1,500 species, including endemics and threatened birds.
  • Features a wealth of breath-taking colour plates painted by leading Chinese artists.
  • Includes some 4,000 images that illustrate every species
  • Discusses China’s geography and zoogeography.
  • Shares invaluable advice on birding practices and ethics.

The Authors: Liu Yang is a professor of animal ecology and ornithology at Sun Yat-sen University and a leading authority on the birdlife of China.

Chen Shuihua is the deputy director of the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, which is home to one of China’s largest collections of bird specimens.

Fatbirder View:

There is a great deal to admire in this truly comprehensive fieldguide. The illustrations are of a high standard throughout. The introductory chapters are informative and give a clear picture of the state of birds and birding in mainland china, useful given how much things have changed in recent years, particularly the rise of birders, bird photographers and citizen science there.

The guide also tries to bridge cultures as it is an English text, but names are also shown in Chinese both in their script and phonetically, so it becomes possible to talk to Chinese birders about their local species.

It is a (literally) weighty tome, but that is inevitable given the vast country and the extensive avifauna. It also does what the recent (2020) ‘Birds of China’ by John Mackinnon, did not manage… have the brief species accounts and maps on the left page with the plates on the right, making it far easier to use in the field.

However, where it really falls down is exactly where that strength also lies. The accounts and maps are there, but printed in such a pale grey and tiny font as to be almost unreadable. The maps also look as if they are viewed behind a thin veil. This myopic greybeard resorted to a magnifying glass to access those descriptions. If I were the authors I’d be livid. Someone decided that they would make tiny text even harder to read by using grey against bright white, instead of going for maximum contrast.

I hope this is a successful and profitable publication, because there has to be a better way in the future. With half the number of species, the US Sibley fieldguide followed up their success by splitting the field guide in two… east and west. Yes there is lots of commonality, but enough difference to make those books lighter and allowing more space for more or bigger more readable text. I don’t know where the divide is in china, maybe north-south rather than east-west. Maybe there are geo-faunal zones that make more sense. After all, birds are no respecters of political boundaries, and birders can cope better with two smaller, readable guides than one heavy book that is hard to read. An e-version would solve both problems of course. I don’t go anywhere without Collins App and Sibley’s app et al on my iPhone and have the distinct advantage of being able to hear calls too.

In short, this massive, brilliantly illustrated guide deserves to succeed and is priced inexpensively too. Shame about the text size and colour.

Buy this book from NHBS