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The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds: revised and updated

The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds - Peter Slater, Pat Slater, Raoul Slater If you find yourself in Australia, and wish to observe some of the lesser-known of the continent’s beautiful birds, I definitely recommend using The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Cockatoo (p.160)I’ll start off with cockatoos, because it’s no secret on GoodReads that I love cockatoos. I can’t get enough of their clownish playful antics. The sulphur-crested “cockie” is probably Australia’s most iconic bird, and you definitely don’t need a guide to spot them; they hang out in large flocks all up and down Australia’s temperate coastline, and seem very much at home in urban environments, where you might spot them in the park, or on balconies. Here’s are some wild cockatoos in Sydney.They are social birds, who employ their prominent crest as a device to communicate alarm or excitement. Sulphur-crested is the most common variety, but pink, gray, and even black cockatoos also exist.Many Americans over forty probably remember "Fred", the mid-70’s celebrity cockatoo who starred in the hit television show “Baretta”. In reality, "Fred" was played by seven different birds over the course of the series. To the human eye, they all look like the same bird, but I wonder if cockatoos viewing that show would notice that it isn't the same bird at all. Perhaps to them, it would be like watching "Bewitched", where in the middle of the series, all of the sudden a new guy starts playing the part of "Darren", and he doesn't look anything like the original, yet nobody on the series seems to notice. KookaburraKookaburra comes in a close second to Cockatoo as the best-known Australian bird, thanks to that campfire song which is perhaps history's all-time most beloved piece of public domain music about Australian birds. I had the pleasure of hearing the Kookaburra's call, and while I admit it does sound like a funny, somewhat out-of-control laugh, what's more impressive about the call is how LOUD it is. I could hardly believe the volume coming out of such a little bird. In this respect, Kookaburras are like the Merry Clayton (yes, that's how her name is spelled) of the avian world. She's that petite jazz singer with a powerful voice, most famous for her wailing performance with the Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter. (Link here; Mary's solo begins at 2:41) Here's four Kookaburra huddling together in a park.Here's a Merry Clayton publicity photo.and here's a badass version of the song where Merry sings lead, instead of backup: (link). Spinifex Pigeon (p.151)Australia’s Outback region is an unforgiving dry and oppressively hot environment, where only the fittest can survive, so what would you expect to find there? That’s right: Pigeons. Highly-adapted Spinifex Pigeons, so named for the dry Spinifex grass they inhabit. Like the cockatoo and cockatiel, they have a communicative crest- something of a theme among Australian birds. The zebra-like striping is also seen in many of Australia’s birds, but the striking red eye is what you’ll probably first notice about this bird.Zebra Finch (p.308)Yeah, here’s another little zebra-striped desert bird. Zebra finches are popular pets in the U.S., and can be found flitting around nervously and beep beep beeping in most pet stores. In the wild, they’re known to aboriginal Australians for their uncanny ability to locate waterholes in the desert. This isn't the greatest picture, but it’s a group of the zebra finch getting a drink. Here's a better (stock) pic. Notice the characteristic bright orange triangular beak.Galah (p.161)These pink and white birds are considered (by this guide and others) to be a non-crested variety of cockatoo… but isn’t an uncrested cockatoo just a parrot? If you ever stumble into a deep philosophical debate going on about what the essence of cockatoo-ness is, you can just casually interject “Yeah, but what about the Galah? They don’t have crests, and they’re considered cockatoos!” That will probably get things stirred up pretty good.I mentioned above that cockatoos in general are known for their playfulness, and sometimes behavior which appears silly. I guess Galahs exhibit more than their fair share of this, because in Australian slang, the term “Galah” means a silly person.Here are two wild Galah:And here are two domesticated ones:Cockatiel (p.168)This is the smallest of the cockatoo family. It has the same crest and beak as its larger sulphur-crested cousins, but size and coloration (including the now-familiar zebra-like striping) set it apart. These adaptations reflect the considerably drier and hotter regions that cockatiels inhabit: whereas sulphur-crested cockies live in coastal areas, cockatiel are found in the Outback. In America, they are a popular pet. I have a wonderful cockatiel; everybody who’s met him absolutely loves him.Wedge-tailed Eagle (p.78)OMG!! I didn’t think they made eagles this big. The wedge-tail has an impressive 2-2.5m wingspan, and talons which can even kill small kangaroo. We saw two tearing up some road kill (no pic, sorry), and they look like nasty motherfuckers. Make no mistake about it: these birds would love to eat you too!Ringneck Parrot (p. 170)The distinctive markings around the neck actually fit the bird’s name, and make identification a snap! Why can’t all birds be this easy?Cassowary (p.10)Cassowary are a giant flightless Australian bird, similar to the Emu, but more colorful. Unfortunately these birds are uncommon, and I didn’t spot any. What I did see were plenty of road signs warning me not to hit any Cassowary.Rainbow Lorikeet (p.164)This is the most colorful bird I’ve ever seen in the wild. Ian and I spotted one in a park.Magpie Lark (p.316)Is it a magpie, or is it a lark? It’s a magpie lark! These guys are found all over Australia. Is this the best name for these bird? I don't know. Here's a magpie and a lark.Here's a magpie lark. The magpie part is clear: the distinctive black and white markings. The lark contribution is not so obvious. Yet the bird is named after the lark, and "magpie" is just a modifier. What is the Lark-ness about it? The shape of the beak, maybe? Is the black and white color scheme enough to say it is magpie-like? Penguins are black and white too. The feature I think is most distinctive about magpies are their long tails, and their interesting behaviour (they like to steal shiny objects. In fact, the Italian word for magpie "gazze ladro" translates to "little theif".) I'm not really feeling the essence of a magpie in this bird, just because they're black and white. Would you say those Star Trek guys with the black and white were also of the magpie family?Does anybody remember that episode? It was a planet where the black-on-the-left/white-on-the-right people were engaged in a senseless war with the black-on-the-right/white-on-the-left people. They ultimately destroyed themselves. It seems to me the writers of that episode missed a golden opportunity to write a parable about racism here on Earth.BirdI learned that “Bird” is Australian slang for girl or woman. Here's a nice bird we spotted in Sydney. This particular variety is frequently seen in bookstores, foraging for fiction.