Field Guide Requirements-- some thoughts

To: "Messages Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Field Guide Requirements-- some thoughts
From: "Bob Forsyth" <>
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 16:16:42 +1000
G'day all,

Peter Cooper  wrote 28/02/2007 " ...  I think we need a new web site called 
'Australian Birds From Below and Behind'..."

that prompted me to post a few words about the design of Field Guides.

Novice Birdos rely 100% on Field Guides (FGs) & thus their ease of use is 

Australia is very fortunate to have a number of very good Field Guides to Bird 

.. although texts over 1Kg such as Pizzey & Knight, and Morcombe barely qualify 
as Field Guides

My latest versions include >

- Morcombe, FG to Australian Birds

- Morcombe, FG to Australian Birds, Complete Compact Edition, 2006, lightweight 

- Pizzey & Doyle, FG to Birds of Australia, revised edition 1991

- Pizzey & Knight, FG to Birds of Australia,1st ed'n, Reprinted 1997 with 

- Simpson & Day, FG to Birds of Australia, 2004, 7th Ed'n

- The Slater FG to Australian Birds, (Revised & Updated) 2003

Each has their strengths and consequently their followers.

... and probably many birdos will have their unique priorities on this subject.


Here are a few thoughts that come to my mind >


Field guides 1st priority is to enable the user to ID the bird ! !

Once the bird has been identified the user can then refer to one of umpteen 
texts to read that author's version of the birds' sequence in a Taxonomic 


- Look alike birds should be placed together. Slater does a good job

  but Morcombe has Brown Quail & Little Button-quail  84 pages apart)

- Waders/Shorebirds should be in size sequence (or as close as practicable)


- Illustrations for a particular species, should be placed opposite the 
appropriate text

  (except where grouped with the text, e.g. Morcombe Compact Edition)

  Slater has a number of annoying exceptions to an otherwise good layout

  S&D placement of illustrations defies logic.

- Birds that are frequently seen on the wing, should also be illustrated as such

  e.g. Quail, Waterfowl, Raptors, Nightjars

- Birds that are frequently seen from their rear (or below) should also be 
illustrated as such

  e.g. Crakes, Rails, Gallinules (i.e. Swamphen, Moorhen)


- Diagnostic features should be highlighted on the illustration, not hidden in 
the text.

  .. as they say "a picture is worth a 1000 words"


- The most frequently read pages, the Indexes, should be printed in easily read 

  (and road tested by someone with failing eyesight .. in the dusk !)

- Scientific Names and Common Names should be listed separately,

- Common Names listing should be printed nearest the cover,

   and highlight the start of each letter of the alphabet (e.g. Morcombe 
Compact FG)

- Quick Indexes (see S & D 7th ed'n & Morcombe Compact Edition) are a welcome 
addition to FGs

  (e.g. S & D 7th Ed'n, Morcombe Compact Ed'n) and should be located on an 
inside cover


- Page numbers should be in large bold print, and printed on the outer edges of 
the page


- These are a feature of some International texts such as >

   - Shorebirds, An Identification Guide, Hayman, Marchant, Prater (p391-399)

   - Crows and Jays, Madge and Burn (see p166 for Australian Crows)

   - 5 others are listed on Birds Qld Web Page


- I have yet to see any Field Guide include a colour chart ! Why not ?

  How else do you define Rufous, Cinnamon, Scarlet, Olive ?


All FGs should include >

- Glossaries    (example S&D 7th ED'n p346-349)

- Illustrations   (example S&D 7th ED'n p1)


All should have their own web page listing any errors or extra information and 
a facility to allow feedback of errors to the author.

The internet is here .. let us use it !


- Covers should be rugged. I find S&D vinyl cover perhaps the best... but easy 
to get dog-eared.

- Glossy paper must be kept dry. Nor ideal for a book used in all weathers !

   earlier Slater editions could be dried out in a microwave (I have yet to 
test out the 2003 edition)

- The latest version of Slater has a clear slip cover which appeared to be a 
good idea, but mine disintegrated after a bit of use

- Rounded corners seem to prevent dog-ears (latest edition of Slater)


- A Quick Guide to some Waders of Moreton Bay, Litz-Tyne & Venables,1996, 

- Field Guide to the Waders, Condon & McGill. 6th Ed'n, 1974, BOCA

  Both these publications provided relative sizes and silhouetes .. a great 

  I look forward to obtain Andrew Geering's forthcoming wader book.

- What Bird of Prey is that ? Beruldsen, 1995

   Contains useful information but requires editing and reformating.

-The Birds of Prey of Australia, Debus, 1998

   Contains useful information but the illogical placement and lack of an index 
to the illustration disqualifies the book as a Field Guide

- Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef, Nielsen, 1996

   Introduces a unique method of listing birds within a unique identification 
feature e.g.

   Red or orange beak, yellow breast, white rump, etc. Thus a bird can be 
listed under multiple headings. I found the book useful for this region.

 Well, I'll now wait for some useful feedback.

Regards from
Bob Forsyth
Mount Isa, NW Qld.

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