Field Guide Requirements-- some thoughts

To: Gregory Little <>
Subject: Field Guide Requirements-- some thoughts
From: Carl Clifford <>
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2007 11:47:13 +1100

There are problems with colour charts. Stevens and Cuthill outlined
them in their paper "The unsuitability of html-based colour charts
for estimating animal colours – a comment on Berggren and Merilä
(2004)" Frontiers in Zoology 2005, 2:14 where they conclude

"In addition to outlining theoretical criticisms of the use of colour charts, our empirical results show that: individuals vary in their
perception of colours, that different printers produce strikingly
different results when reproducing what should be the same chart, and that the characteristics of the light irradiating the surface do affect colour perception. Therefore, we urge great caution in the use of colour charts to study animal colour signals. They should be used
only as a last resort and in full knowledge of their limitations,
with specially produced charts made to high industry standards."

You can buy sets of colour strips such as those made by Pantone for
the graphics and fashion industries which are quite accurate within
the limitations set out by Stevens and Cuthill, but they are not
cheap. The average graphics colour strip set is over $200. How much
to produce a set specifically for birding? I think the price would be a bit more than that.


Carl Clifford

On 08/03/2007, at 10:24 PM, Gregory Little wrote:

Gooday Birders


Among your good ideas for FG's I would especially like to see the quick
index to bird groups ie ducks, wrens, finches, cockatoos, falcons etc in
the inside cover and I would love to see a colour chart. Is there an
internationally accepted bird colour chart available? There must be.

Greg Little

-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Bob Forsyth
Sent: Thursday, 8 March 2007 5:17 PM
To: Messages Birding-aus
Subject: Field Guide Requirements-- some thoughts

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 essential.

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

.. 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 edition

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

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

- 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


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 listing.


- 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


- 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

  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 font.

  (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.
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

   - 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, QOSI/BQ

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

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

  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,

   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

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

Regards from
Bob Forsyth
Mount Isa, NW Qld.

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