Birds of New Guinea By Thane K Pratt & Bruce M Beehler| Ilustrated by John C Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay | Princeton Field Guides Series | Paperback | October 2014 | Edition: 2 | 528 Pages | 635 Colour Distribution Maps | ISBN: 9780691095639 | 110 plates with colour illustrations; 1 b/w illustrations, 4 colour maps, 1 colour table

The Publisher’s View: This is the completely revised edition of the essential field guide to the birds of New Guinea. The world’s largest tropical island, New Guinea boasts a spectacular avifauna characterized by cassowaries, megapodes, pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, kingfishers, and owlet-nightjars, as well as an exceptionally diverse assemblage of songbirds such as the iconic birds of paradise and bowerbirds. Birds of New Guinea is the only guide to cover all 780 bird species reported in the area, including 366 endemics. Expanding its coverage with 111 vibrant color plates – twice as many as the first edition – and the addition of 635 range maps, The Birds of New Guinea also contains updated species accounts with new information about identification, voice, habits, and range. A must-have for everyone from ecotourists to field researchers, Birds of New Guinea remains an indispensable guide to the diverse birds of this remarkable region.

Regarding the geographic scope of the book, the introduction mentions that “The name New Guinea can cause some confusion. New Guinea is a geographic rather than political term that refers to the main island in the region, herein also abbreviated as NG or referred to as the mainland. The island is not Papua New Guinea (here PNG), which is a country that includes both the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous other islands to the north and east, most of them outside the region covered by this book. The western half of the island of New Guinea comprises the Indonesian provinces of West Papua (Papua Barat) and Papua, collectively once called West Irian or Irian Jaya. (The name Papua was formerly, but separately, also adopted for a portion of Papua New Guinea prior to the independence of that country). To keep things simple, we’ll avoid the name Papua and the adjective Papuan when we mean New Guinea or things New Guinean, although this word is conserved for many bird names.

Aside from the main landmass of New Guinea, the New Guinea Region includes numerous islands on the continental shelf or verges thereof: the Raja Ampat Islands, here called the Northwestern Islands; islands of Geelvink (Cenderawasih) Bay, here called the Bay Islands; the Aru Islands to the southwest; the small fringing islands along the North Coast of PNG; and lastly the islands of Milne Bay Province, here called the Southeastern Islands. Politically, the New Guinea Region is made up of two countries, Indonesia in the west, and Papua New Guinea in the east. Thus, it does not include any of the islands in Torres Strait, which belong to Australia.”

Other Views: It was said of the first edition: “This book is not only indispensable to any bird-watcher visiting New Guinea and the adjacent islands, but, owing to the wealth of its information, it will be of great interest to anyone who is seriously interested in birds.”

– American Scientist

The Authors:

Thane K. Pratt is wildlife biologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center and a conservationist of birds of the tropical Pacific. He is the lead editor of Conservation Biology of Hawaiian Forest Birds.

Bruce M. Beehler is an ornithologist in the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a tropical ecologist with interests in the birds and rainforests of the Asia-Pacific region. He is the author of Lost Worlds: Adventures in the Tropical Rainforest.

Fatbirder View: I did not have the pleasure of ever seeing the first edition of this book, but, as it was published a generation ago I has long been out of print, I am sure this volume will have been eagerly awaited. At a glance it’s as sumptuous as the birds that live there. Certainly the text is authoritative and one would expect no less. I would go further and say it is just what it needs to be for the modern birder, both accessible and authoritative. Gone are the days when birders would rely on pictures alone to ‘tick’ a bird, and leave it to ornithologists to be interested in details of habitat, food, nesting etc. This modern depth is partly to enable good ID of course, but it is also that the vast majority of birders just want to know about these things.

It used to be that scientists used their argot on other scientists and the hoi polloi were content to have a bowdlerised version. Nowadays we all want rigour and we all want it presented in a way we can compute and that doesn’t send us to sleep. That is what modern fieldguides are supposed to do and this is well up to that mark.

Of course we all want to be able to recognise a bird we have never seen before with the aid of such a guide. I doubt I will ever visit New Guinea, and, if I did, I would be physically incapable of getting to the places where the birds live that I would most like to see. The question is, if I were that fortunate would these illustrations do the job?

I am sure most people will answer that with a firm affirmative, but for myself I have some reservations. Of course illustrations must be accurate and I would say that for at least a couple of decades fieldguides that are not just never get as far as a bookseller let alone a birder. However, the majority of the illustrations are rather ‘blocky’ paintings. The exceptions are the waders, fruit pigeons and the most wonderful of all, the Birds of Paradise. These are all extremely accurate but also very fine in their detail. What they would help me do is distinguish one hard to separate species from another. With some of the other very similar species I rather doubt I would be able to. I am of course just passed retirement age and while I don’t quite yet need my meals mashed for me I do appreciate the text button on the remote that allows me to see sub-titles when I cannot make out the dialogue. I feel I need the fieldguide equivalent, fine detail where one can quite easily see the diagnostic differences.

This is an excellent book and will serve travelling birders very well indeed and I am sure will be just as welcomes by local wildlife lovers in New Guinea. Given how hard a place it is to bird I am sure my few reservations will not be held by many hardy enough to venture there. This is also a thing of beauty in itself and a pleasure to drool over.


Buy this book from NHBS