I was completely satisfied with this field guide before my journey to New Zealand and after it. Compared to continental biodiversity, only a small number of bird species exist in New Zealand. I previously studied the book very extensive and many times so I was able to identify most land and coastal birds directly or at least put them in the right category. (This statement is unapplicable on seabirds because there is a great deal of them in New Zealand’s waters. Furthermore their way of life and the fact that observations are mostly very short make it harder to identify them.)
The book contains the birds of the main islands and all species of the outlying Pacific islands, which belong to New Zealand as well.
It is seperated in four parts:
A short introduction gives some hints about how to use the field guide.
The identification guide presents all species briefly and is arranged after bird families. Introduced birds are presented on separated pages. The species descriptions in this part of the book are brief and give information about size and weight, (seasonal) appearance, frequency, habitat, breeding period and sometimes vocal expressions. The distribution maps are detailed and not to small. Unfortunately they are painted only in red, so that they don’t give hints about sedentary birds, summer or winter visitors.
The illustrations are found on the opponent pages. Mostly 3-5 species are presented, so that the illustrations aren’t too small and the pages not too crowded. Where it is necessary, differences between sexes and maturity, juvenile, breeding and non-breeding birds, different phases/subspecies and flight images are shown.
At the end of the identification guide five species are presented, that are (probably) extinct since 1900.
The next part of the book, and with around 260 pages the longest one, is the handbook. Here the bird families and single species are presented in detail (mostly one page for each bird): different names of the bird, distribution (in the past and today), size of population, conservation, general and breeding behaviour, feeding and further bibliography. This is the part, which makes the book more than a pure field guide, because all kinds of interesting information can be found, e. g. how the population disperses on the whole distribution area (even specific places often are named); size of the clutch, incubation time, colour and size of the eggs; known age; detailed seasonal migration movements; ingestion; history of threat, decline, safeguard and it’s achievements; especially the passerines often include the section “In the hand”, which describe the differences in sexes and age of caught birds – very useful for research.
Every species has an own number in the identification guide and in the handbook, so that it’s easy to find them in each section without the need of long searching.
The last part contains a short but good description of twelve hot spots for birding in New Zealand, including information about localities, data of organiser and birds to be awaited in the area.
Now to the criticism:
In my opinion the illustrations are the biggest deficit. Unfortunately they can’t achieve the quality of other field guides. They are not bad, but sometimes the plumages seem washy and some detailed parts of them are not shown very accurate. Furthermore the colours of some birds in the book don’t look the same as in reality. Good examples are the Blue Duck and Reef Heron. The Reef Heron is illustrated in a very dark grey. However in the field it looked very bright in a blueish grey colour. Therefore when I saw the heron at first I really was unsure about my identification, although it was the only logical possibility. Exactly the other way it is for the Blue Duck: In the book a very light blue-grey. But on photographs it has a much more dark appearance, in a dark grey, partly brown, only with a blueish glimmer in the right light. So the colours of this two species could have been exchanged in the book to come close to the reality.
The colour of the Brown Creeper seems lighter in the book too, than I realized it in the field. On many photographs this bird also seems to be darker. This was the only bird I had to research photographs on the internet afterwards for the definite identification.
Sometimes some kinds of plumages are missing and a few seabirds are only shown from up side or bottom side but not from both, although this can be important for identification.
Unfortunately data of wingspan is totally missing and vocal expressions one time are described in the identification guide, another time in the handbook.
Of course I like the incomparable handbook. Such a mass of information is unusual for a field guide. And nevertheless the book weights 890 grams, which is not too much for taking it in the field.
Despite the moderate illustrations it altogether gets five stars, because it allowed a very good preparation of the journey and on the whole it was useful in the field.
(Mistakes in language and grammar may be excused, for English is not my mother language.)