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This is the completely revised edition of the essential field guide to the birds of New Guinea. The world's largest tropical island, New Guinea boasts a spectacular avifauna characterized by cassowaries, megapodes, pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, kingfishers, and owlet-nightjars, as well as an exceptionally diverse assemblage of songbirds such as the iconic birds of paradise and bowerbirds. Birds of New Guinea is the only guide to cover all 780 bird species reported in the area, including 366 endemics. Expanding its coverage with 111 vibrant color plates—twice as many as the first edition—and the addition of 635 range maps, the book also contains updated species accounts with new information about identification, voice, habits, and range. A must-have for everyone from ecotourists to field researchers, Birds of New Guinea remains an indispensable guide to the diverse birds of this remarkable region.

  • 780 bird species, including 366 found nowhere else
  • 111 stunning color plates, twice the number of the first edition
  • Expanded and updated species accounts provide details on identification, voice, habits, and range
  • 635 range maps
  • Revised classification of birds reflects the latest research

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691095639
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 10/26/2014
Series: Princeton Field Guides , #97
Edition description: Second
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 1,169,656
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Thane K. Pratt is wildlife biologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center and a conservationist of birds of the tropical Pacific. He is the lead editor of Conservation Biology of Hawaiian Forest Birds. Bruce M. Beehler is an ornithologist in the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a tropical ecologist with interests in the birds and rainforests of the Asia-Pacific region. He is the author of Lost Worlds: Adventures in the Tropical Rainforest.

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Birds of New Guinea

By Thane K. Pratt, Bruce M. Beehler, John C. Anderton, Szabolcs Kókay, James Coe, Dale Zimmerman


Copyright © 2015 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-6511-6




New Guinea is the center of bird diversity in Australasia (Australia and New Guinea combined, plus nearby islands). Here lives one of the world's four great tropical avifaunas, separate in its history and evolution from those of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The region is famous for being home to a rich and distinctive humid forest avifauna characterized by cassowaries, megapodes, pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, kingfishers, owlet-nightjars, and especially the oscine passerines or songbirds. The latter include hundreds of small insectivores belonging to numerous families centered on the region, and most renowned of all, the birds of paradise and bowerbirds. The uniqueness of the ancient passerine lineages that evolved in the region are only now coming to light with the detailed molecular systematic studies that have recently elevated seven New Guinean endemic songbird lineages to full familial status—the satinbirds, typical berrypeckers, painted berrypeckers, the berryhunters, ploughbills, ifrits, and melampittas. These relatively obscure montane forest denizens are fascinating, but overshadowed by the more prodigious songbird lineages that also apparently evolved in New Guinea only to expand out to the forestlands of Australia, Oceania, and Asia.

This volume treats all species of birds known to occur within the New Guinea Region as defined by Mayr (1941), comprising the huge equatorial island of New Guinea and its numerous closely associated satellite islands and island groups (inside cover). This second edition of Birds of New Guinea now includes detailed accounts of 779 bird species—70 more than the first edition.

The name New Guinea can cause some confusion. New Guinea is a geographic rather than political term that refers to the main island in the region, herein also abbreviated as NG or referred to as the mainland. The island is not Papua New Guinea (here PNG), which is a country that includes both the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous other islands to the north and east, most of them outside the region covered by this book. The western half of the island of New Guinea comprises the Indonesian provinces of West Papua (Papua Barat) and Papua, collectively once called West Irian or Irian Jaya. (The name Papua was formerly, but separately, also adopted for a portion of Papua New Guinea prior to the independence of that country). To keep things simple, we'll avoid the name Papua and the adjective Papuan when we mean New Guinea or things New Guinean, although this word is conserved for many bird names.

Aside from the main landmass of New Guinea, the New Guinea Region includes numerous islands on the continental shelf or verges thereof: the Raja Ampat Islands, here called the Northwestern Islands; islands of Geelvink (Cenderawasih) Bay, here called the Bay Islands; the Aru Islands to the southwest; the small fringing islands along the North Coast of PNG; and lastly the islands of Milne Bay Province, here called the Southeastern Islands. Politically, the New Guinea Region is made up of two countries, Indonesia in the west, and Papua New Guinea in the east. Thus, it does not include any of the islands in Torres Strait, which belong to Australia. The area covered extends from the equator to 12°S latitude, and from 129 to 155°E longitude—a region 3100 km long by 850 km wide, and including what is the largest expanse of continuous tropical humid forest in the Asia-Pacific region.

Marine waters we consider to be within the region are all surrounding seas: the Seram, Halmahera, Bismarck, Solomon, Coral, and Arafura Seas, and the open Pacific Ocean to the north, out to approximately 200 km. The term Oceania refers to the main body of the tropical Pacific Ocean that lies off the continental shelf, a vast realm of open ocean and small islands, most of it outside the New Guinea Region.


The 779 bird species of the New Guinea avifauna can be classified into four discrete groups: 621 breeding land and freshwater species (some augmented by migrant Australian populations), 20 tropical seabirds (resident or visiting), 60 migrants from eastern Asia, 33 migrants from Australia and New Zealand, 36 vagrants, 5 non-native resident species, and 4 hypothetical species (of uncertain status). By far the richest segment is that comprising land and freshwater birds; these are the rainforest, montane, and alpine species, plus species of more specialized habitats such as mangrove and savannah, that provide the New Guinea Region with such an exotic and varied bird fauna. Of these, 365 species (or 59%) are endemic to the New Guinea Region, meaning they are found nowhere else. It is this primarily endemic element that receives a special emphasis in our book. The seabirds, waders, and other wide-ranging species are also of course included, but the reader should note they are treated more thoroughly in other, specialty guides (examples listed in Selected References section, p. 36).


The New Guinea Region is geographically complex. It is a region of two different worlds, of vast lowland plains and high mountains—in a sense these are the Amazon and the Andes of the Pacific. The mainland is dominated by a huge, central cordillera called the Central Ranges extending 1900 km from northwest to southeast across the length of the island, not including the Bird's Head and Neck. To that are added 11 much smaller, outlying ranges that are home to endemic species or subspecies: the Tamrau, Arfak, Fakfak, Kumawa, Wandammen, Van Rees, Foja, Cyclops, North Coastal, Adelbert, and Huon Ranges. The mountain environments and the barriers created by mountains frame the geography of New Guinea. Spreading out from this mountainous framework, and partitioned by it, are the great alluvial basins that support the lowland rainforests. These are aligned into four principal lowland subregions, listed here by size: the Southern Lowlands, the Sepik-Ramu, the Northwestern Lowlands, and the southern lowlands of the Bird's Head and Bird's Neck. Like the mountain subregions, these lowland subregions support their own endemic birds. The reader will find many species' ranges defined by a listing of the mountain groups or lowland basins inhabited. New Guinea also supports extensive coastal mangroves, inland swamp forests, impenetrable karst terrain, and seasonally flooded savannahs. Beyond mainland New Guinea, there lies the island realm, each island or group of islands inhabited by a microcosm of New Guinea birdlife, offering yet more endemic forms.

A number of biogeographic patterns recur when the geography just described is compared with avian distributions, and from these we are able to discern distinct New Guinea bird regions. We will refer to these bird regions frequently in the species accounts and facing page text, and to familiarize the reader with the layout of the bird regions, we explain them later in the Introduction (p. 25). Fifteen in all, these bird regions vary in size and homogeneity, but all are defined by some avian endemism at the species or race level.


The list of bird species in this field guide closely follows a new species list we are developing (Beehler and Pratt, in prep.). This regional taxonomic and geographic checklist treats the nomenclature and distribution of all species and subspecies of birds known from the New Guinea Region, and mainly follows the International Ornithological Committee Checklist (Gill and Donsker 2013: IOC World Bird List 3.3); however, in some cases we have sought regional guidance from Christidis and Boles (2008) and Dickinson and Remsen (2013). Ordinal, familial, generic, and species sequences follow the IOC list. Our list is further updated by global molecular systematic studies.

In New Guinea, species limits have traditionally followed the landmark List of New Guinea Birds (Mayr 1941), prepared at a time when concepts and methods of defining of species differed from those of today. Recently, many of Mayr's broadly defined polytypic species have been dissected into species-pairs or species-groups, influenced by the arrival of the phylogenetic species concept and new data on morphology, genetics, behavior, and distributions. We follow the biological species concept in this book but acknowledge that the bird species of the world are now more narrowly defined than at the time of the first edition.

This edition of the field guide follows the English names selected in Beehler and Pratt (in prep.). English names were chosen on the basis of (1) widespread prior use, (2) applicability, and (3) brevity. We worked closely with the IOC nomenclature committee to establish congruence in names, but in a few cases names or orthography do not match between the two lists. While striving to maintain nomenclatural stability, we nevertheless had to make updates to reflect changes in the world of ornithology and systematics, as well as political and cultural sensitivities. For species primarily Australian in distribution, we generally accepted the names suggested by Christidis and Boles (2008), and because the fauna treated here is closely linked to that of Australia, proper names of birds reflect Australian spelling. Only as a last resort did we devise any different names for endemic species.


Subspecies reflect regional population variation within species, and birds often display such variation across the diverse landscapes of New Guinea. In developing the taxonomic checklist, we made an effort to reduce the swarm of thinly designated and clinal (changing gradually with distance) subspecies to a minimum; however, this is still a problematic exercise because knowledge of many subspecies is rudimentary.

When is a well-marked subspecies actually better regarded as a "full" species? Quite a few of the more distinct forms treated as subspecies in our first edition are here elevated to full species (e.g., following Frith and Frith (2004), we have split the Flame Bowerbird Sericulus ardens from the Masked Bowerbird S. aureus). The jury is still out in other examples, mainly because of inadequate fieldwork or genetic (molecular) data. Further field and laboratory studies of well-marked regional populations will help clarify the taxonomic status of certain poorly known groups. To aid field identification, and to promote the study of little-known distinct local forms, we have illustrated nearly all the distinct races found in the region. In addition to marked geographic variation in plumage, some species also exhibit significant variation in voice. When one visits a new region, many songs at first sound unfamiliar; gradually, one develops an ear for the local "dialects" as variations of familiar songs. We encourage fieldworkers to take special note of subspecies and learn as much as possible about their vocalizations and habits. With better study some of these may be discovered to be "cryptic species" that merit recognition.


Ernst Mayr's List of New Guinea Birds (1941) remains a foundational taxonomic and distributional work, incorporating results of the hundreds of preceding publications on New Guinea birds. Austin L. Rand and E. Thomas Gilliard produced the Handbook of New Guinea Birds (1967) that served as the best one-volume account of the topic for several decades. Jared M. Diamond's Avifauna of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea (1972) was the first in-depth biogeographic analysis of New Guinea's bird fauna. More recently, Brian J. Coates produced the superbly researched, two-volume, large-format handbook on the Birds of Papua New Guinea (1985 and 1990), followed by a very useful small-format photographic field guide to New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago (Coates and Peckover 2001). More recently, monographs devoted to specific families of birds and handbooks covering world or regional avifaunas have become leading sources of information. Handbook of Australian and New Zealand Birds (Marchant, Higgins, et al. 1990–2006) was our principal source of information for Australian birds, and Handbook of Birds of the World (del Hoyo et al. 1992–2011) was the main source for Asian species, when family-specific publications were not available. These volumes and other published reference works can be found in the Selected References at the end of this introductory section.

2. How to Use This Book

In contrast to this book's first edition, the facing-page treatments that accompany each painted color plate are more comprehensive and include range maps. This format allows the user to quickly identify the bird in question without, in most cases, having to refer to the species accounts within the main body of the book. Thus, the facing-plate accounts are abridged yet self-contained accounts of each species. For an explanation of the maps, please see Figure 1.

The expanded species accounts in the body of the book are the main reference and provide more detailed information, including other widely used names, more detailed description consisting of identification aids (including length in centimeters, field marks, and special behavioral or distributional clues), subspecies, similar species, voice, habitat, habits (including nesting data), range, and taxonomy (when relevant).

Measurements. The length measurement is for comparative purposes. It is not intended for in-the-hand species identification, as different populations and sexes oft en show substantial size variation, and our measurements are from study skins, not living birds. Measurements were derived primarily from Rand and Gilliard (1967), the latest and most comprehensive source of measurements for New Guinea birds. In some cases, these were replaced by measurements from HANZAB for birds originating in Australia, or from other updated sources, or from measurements we made ourselves. For a few species, additional measurements are given to aid comparisons. Wing length is the standard measurement of the folded wing, as measured from the carpal bend of the wing to the tip of the wing, with the wing flattened against the ruler (more properly termed wing arc). For seabirds and raptors (hawks, eagles, and kin), wingspan (distance between the tips of the fully extended wings) measurements were taken from Harrison (1983) and Fergusson-Lees and Christie (2001), respectively, but be aware that min-max values may show too wide a range of values for some species whose geographic distributions extend beyond NG.

Status. Each species account opens with a brief statement on the species' status in the New Guinea Region—residency, migratory pattern, abundance, and main habitats. Generally, five categories of abundance are used, listed here from most to least numerous: abundant, common, uncommon,rare, and vagrant. An abundant species is seen daily in good numbers in the right habitat, whereas a vagrant species is known from only 1–5 records in the whole NG Region and its distribution does not normally include the region. Most migrants are either Palearctic migrants (from northern Eurasia) or AU migrants (Australian). Hypothetical species reported from the region are of uncertain status and lack adequate documentation. The types of bird habitats are explained on page 21.

Description. The descriptions present points for identification and plumage diff erences useful for ageing and sexing birds. Key field marks are italicized. For names of the parts of a bird and its plumage, please see Figure 2. Once a year, birds gradually shed all their feathers and replace them with new ones, a process termed molt. During molt, the plumage coloration may change, and related species oft en follow similar sequential patterns. Descriptive information on plumage development in New Guinea birds has been derived mainly by study of museum specimens and from field data, when available.

The plumage categories are as follows:

All Plumages—adult and juvenile indistinguishable.

Adult—sexes indistinguishable as adults; may be indicated as breeding or nonbreeding, if either apply.

Morphs (phases)—in cases of more than one type of normal adult plumage (most species have only a single morph), e.g., Variable Goshawk.

Male and/or Female—adult birds distinguishable by sex.

Imm—(immature) a distinct plumage after the juvenile plumage and before the adult plumage.

Juv—(juvenile) the first plumage following the downy plumage of a hatched chick.

Natal—downy chick.

Subspecies. Only subspecies that are obvious or easily discernible are listed. Thinly separated or clinal (varying) subspecies are pooled and identified as a group. If the differences among all the subspecies are obscure, they are described as minor. If a species also lives outside the New Guinea Region, its subspecies in the region is named, and the relationship to other extraregional subspecies is identified as endemic or shared. If the species does not have subspecies (is monotypic), then the subspecies status is omitted. The format for the Subspecies Section is thus:

Subspp. (the number of subspecies, in number of groups): name of a subspecies or group (its geographical range) and key identifying features.


Excerpted from Birds of New Guinea by Thane K. Pratt, Bruce M. Beehler, John C. Anderton, Szabolcs Kókay, James Coe, Dale Zimmerman. Copyright © 2015 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface 9

Acknowledgments 11

Abbreviations 13

1. Introduction 14

2. How to Use This Book 17

3. New Guinea Natural History 20

4. In the Field in Search of Birds 33

Selected References 36

Web Sources 39

Plates 40

Species Accounts 262

Index 517

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