Big, loud, belligerent, gregarious, fiercely competitive – in many ways Australia’s birds conform to the negative stereotype of their human compatriots. Happily, though, these less than attractive traits are not the only things that make Australia’s birds distinctive, as Tim Low, an eminent field biologist, explains in this illuminating and engaging study. They are at the very heart of the story of the world’s birds: it is to Australia that the world owes all its songbirds, parrots and several other bird groups.
Low begins with the most obviously striking traits of Australian birds – their harsh calls and aggressive behaviour, not only towards their own species but also towards any other animal that might attract their ire, including humans. Brisbane has an estimated five hundred people-attacking magpies – one or