Twenty-eight years have passed since publication of the first edition of Birds of New Guinea. In that time, big changes have taken place in this important bird region. The human population has more than doubled, economic development—particularly mining and logging—has accelerated, and the loss of habitat has increased proportionately. On the brighter side, vast tracts of wilderness remain, several international conservation organizations have joined forces with local governments to protect the forest, birding as a form of ecotourism has blossomed, and a new generation of field researchers has taken to the bush. Exciting new information on bird distribution and biology has poured in. And as if to heighten appreciation for New Guinea’s avifauna, modern molecular systematic research has revolutionized the classification of birds and pinpointed New Guinea and Australia as the motherland of the world’s most prominent bird lineage, the songbirds (oscine passerines). In light of these changes, a new edition of Birds of New Guinea is timely.
A book must suit the purposes of the people using it. In many parts of the world—Australia, Europe, North America—field guides to birds are written mainly for birders (bird-watchers). These books focus solely on how to identify birds to species, how to tell the age and sex of a bird, and how and where to find it. Readers wishing to learn more about birds can turn to other books for information on bird natural history, ecology, reproduction, evolution, geographic variation, classification, and conservation. Unfortunately, much of this information on New Guinea birds can be found only in technical literature that is not readily available.
It is our wish that readers in the field have more basic information at their fingertips. In the new edition of Birds of New Guinea, we have expanded the content of the species accounts to include more biological details—behavior, diet, nesting—than are typically covered in a field guide. As for the identification purpose of the book, we have also expanded the species accounts in this second edition to explain how to determine the sex and age of a bird, and how geographic variation is partitioned into subspecies (races). To accomplish all this, we have adopted a “handbook-style” format for the book. Rather than fitting all the information opposite the painted plates—the format typical of most recent field guides—our book presents detailed species accounts in the body of the book separate from the illustrations in the front, with abridged species accounts and maps facing the plates. We hope this additional information will be of use to birders, tour guides, biologists, and conservationists who enjoy New Guinea birds and strive to learn more about them.
Expanding the scope of the book demanded new artwork, and for that we drew up a plate plan that more than doubled the number of figures and resulted in replacing nearly all original artwork. The resulting book is as beautiful as it is informative, and we hope readers are as delighted with it as we are.
This text has been adapted from the preface of Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition by Thane K. Pratt and Bruce M. Beehler.