Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific, by Ber van Perlo.
I’ve really come to appreciate the breadth and depth of field guides printed through Princeton University Press. It seems that whenever I have interest in a field guide for a certain area, it’s available. I have a family vacation coming up to Hawaii, and while I’ve been there once before, it was before I became a birder and photographer. I should have a little time to bird while we’re there, and was looking to pick up a concise, readily portable guide that I could carry with me while “in the field”. It wasn’t much of a surprise to find such a guide available through Princeton University Press…”Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific” by Ber van Perlo.
If you’re looking for an in-depth tome that provides large illustrations and comprehensive species accounts, this isn’t it. The book falls under the category of Princeton’s “Illustrated Checklists”, true field guides that provide brief overviews of birds you may encounter, while remaining small and light enough to easily carry in the field. For my “at home” birding, a more comprehensive (and less portable!) field guide like a Sibley’s or Crossley’s is more to my taste, as they provide a greater number of illustrations and more comprehensive identification keys. However, I find the Princeton Illustrated Checklists to be a perfect traveling companion when birding far from home, when size and portability are important, and when I’m visiting an area I’m not likely to revisit frequently.
The Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific is indeed a true “field” guide, coming in at around 250 pages, and only 5 x 7 1/2 inches. For such a compact guide, the amount of information is surprising, as it does cover over 750 species, and provides color illustrations for each. For a book of this size, the illustrations are necessarily small, but yet van Perlo has managed to provide male, female, and juvenile plumages for nearly all of the covered species. Accompanying text is also necessarily sparse, but key identifying features are described, as are short summaries of primary habitat. Range maps are provided for each species, and again, are quite small. If you’re not familiar with the geography of the islands of the Pacific, the maps can be a bit confusing, but for a birder such as myself who is focused on one specific region, at a glance the guide let me know whether a species was found in the Hawaiian islands.
As with any compact field guide, shortcuts are necessary for summarizing geographic range, seasonality, and identification keys. I did find the codes and symbols on the maps and descriptive text a bit confusing at times. The map symbols in particular are unique and a bit confusing. In the short species’ specific text, it also seemed like the very short abbreviations for specific geographic regions were unnecessary, given the text and maps pages typically had ample blank space that would have allowed for a richer description. However, these are very minor nits for a wonderful field guide that any birder should feel comfortable carrying when visiting the islands of the Pacific.
Birds of Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Central and West Pacific is widely available, with a listed price at $29.95. I thank Princeton University Press for providing a review copy of this guide.