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Review of ‘Australian Birds’

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ChickPea has been enamoured with birds for some time now, and for her 8th birthday last week she received binoculars and a Queensland birdwatching book. The second part of this gift was a voucher to go birdwatching with our dear friend Lyndal, who is an academic, photographer and avid birdwatcher. In fact her picture of a Pink Robin went utterly viral online recently – I love all Lyndals bird photographs and have one near my bed which I love to look at every morning, but even I was awestruck by this photograph – which you can see at her Instagram here. Lyndal also included PudStar’s bird illustrations in an academic text book a few years ago – see it here. ChickPea was SO EXCITED about birdwatching and fortunately the experience lived up the hype. She now has a file full of bird photos, a long list of birds she spotted and a developing interest in all things bird. So it is timely that I post this review of ‘Australian Birds’ this week, done by my lovely scientist neighbour Sam – you can see all Sam’s other reviews under the ‘guest blogger’ tag here.

Title: ‘Australian Birds’
Reviewer: Dr Sam Lloyd
Illustrator: Matt Chun
Author/Design: Ella Meave and Pooja Desai
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont 
Themes: Australian native birds, bird habitat, bird food, bird behaviour and bird biology.

Click on title links or cover image to purchase.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the stunning illustrations, they really are very beautiful and you can see the influence of Chun’s work as a portrait illustrator in each of the birds he has rendered in pencil and watercolour.  I noticed no author was listed on the front or inside cover (it’s on the inside back cover), which says that, for the publisher, the primary focus of the book is the illustrations; this is reinforced by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), with ‘Australian Birds’ being shortlisted on the CBCA Aaward for New Illustrator – for an illustrator who is emerging or new to the field of children’s book illustration.  However, I found the text informative and accessible for primary school aged children (or anyone with a general interest in birds), although I do think it would have been good if they could have included the scientific name for each bird species.  The book is quite large, being slightly bigger than an A4 piece of paper and the illustrations are all largely head illustrations (a nod to Chun’s portraiture background no doubt) with beautifully fine detail and colour that encourages you to really focus on the bird.

Image credit: Booktopia

My favourite birds in the book are the superb fairy wren, tawny frogmouth and superb lyrebird.  The superb fairy-wren is such a pretty little bird, weighing only 10g they hop around amongst the undergrowth in search of insects and other food all day. Interestingly, the males only have the bright blue plumage for the breeding season (in order to attract the ladies), the rest of the year they are a dull brown.  The tawny frogmouth is just an awesome bird, people often assume they are owls, being nocturnal and a bird of prey, but they are quite different to owls.  They are magnificent at camouflaging themselves in the bush and their diet includes nocturnal insects and invertebrates, small frogs, reptiles, mammals and even other small birds.  The superb lyrebird is one of the most beautiful and incredible songbirds on the planet.  The male has stunning tail plumage (again to attract the ladies), which when on display look like a lyre (a classical Green string instrument, that somewhat resembles a small harp).  But, the most impressive thing about this bird is that about 80% of its song comprises incredibly accurate mimicry, including other birds, chainsaws and car alarms!  If you have never heard this impressive bird I encourage you to watch this YouTube clip featuring David Attenborough.

Birds, Twitchers and Kids

Birds are about the most accessible animal group for observation by children and the general public, with their size, colour, presence in gardens and urban areas and, of course, their calls all contributing to identification.  Twitching (aka birding or bird watching) is a great outdoor hobby for children (and adults) that encourages observation skills, builds a connection with nature and keeps you healthy.  Birding groups have long understood the wonder and accessibility of birds and many birding groups have produced local bird guides that are easy for kids (and birding adults) to use.  My 8 year-old son really enjoys bird watching, he loves that he can tick off birds as he sees them and it’s always exciting when he sees a species he has not seen before.

Sam’s son with his bird I.D book

There are loads of great birding groups across Australia, the Birdlife website is a good place to start if you are interested in learning more about bird watching.  Birdlife even produce a dedicated magazine just for kids called The Wing Thing’ .  There are also many (many) bird identification books (including field guides and handbooks) some of which are kid friendly. CSIRO have a good list here.

Birds are a useful and readily accessible source of information that can help to determine the health of an ecosystem or contribute to the biodiversity profile of an area.  Moreover, many projects and programs rely on bird watching data from the community, in what is now referred to as “citizen science”.  High profile Australian ecologists, including Prof Hugh Possingham, have spoken of the value and ease with which bird data can be recorded by the community for use in scientific studies and ecological assessments.  Citizen science programs that encourage children to look out for birds (and other animals), engage with nature and be part of a fun and healthy activity include:

  • Birds in Backyards is a research, education and conservation program of BirdLife Australia focused on the birds that live where people live.  You can get involved by becoming a member and taking part in online surveys.  You can also learn how you can create bird-friendly spaces in your garden and local community.  Find out more about Australian birds and their habitats.
  • The National Twitchathon is BirdLife Australia’s spring race for bird conservation. It’s a friendly competition in which teams of twitchers race to see or hear as many bird species as possible in a set time, while raising funds for BirdLife’s conservation and research projects.
  • FaunaWatch is a community-based program run by Wildlife Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Branch. The FaunaWatch program collects and compiles sighting information submitted by community volunteers.
  • The Wild Pollinator Count gives you an opportunity to contribute to wild pollinator insect conservation in Australia by counting the insects that visit a plant in your backyard or neighbourhood. It runs twice a year (April and November) and is super easy to do.

Image credit: Booktopia

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