• NZ Booklovers

Birds of New Zealand: Nga Manu O Aotearoa, Collective Nouns by Melissa Boardman

In this beautifully illustrated small book Melissa Boardman introduces us to many of our precious native birds.

Melissa is a keen bird photographer and conservationist. She photographed these birds while volunteer guiding at Zealandia, on visits to other predator free wildlife sanctuaries in New Zealand and on frequent trips to our coastline. But rather than use these photographs she created illustrations.

These provide a clearer and uncluttered view and allow her to show the birds from different angles, so making it an excellent beginner’s bird identification guide. For each bird she has created a collective noun to highlight one aspect which makes it unique, its call, colouring, or personality.

I really like the fact that both the Maori and English names for each bird are in there. Maori were familiar with all of these birds and had named them well before the colonists arrived. Her collective nouns have also been translated into te reo.

Like Melissa I am a volunteer guide. I am privileged to guide at Tiritiri Matangi Island, a predator free island in the Hauraki Gulf. When guiding it is always a thrill to see how excited our visitors are when they spot one of our native birds for the first time. Children with their eagle eyes are especially good at this! Melissa’s collective nouns would be a great way of drawing their attention to something which is unique about that bird.

For instance, “A cloud of whiteheads.” refers not only to their white heads but also to the way they forage high up in the tree canopies, close to the clouds.

Even if visitors do not see the kokako, who can be elusive, they may well hear its distinctive mournful organ like call in the distance, ‘A haunting of kokako”.

Quite a few of the birds in her book can only be found in our predator free sanctuaries, others she spotted on our coastline and on seabird-watching trips. Should you follow in her footsteps you might well come across ‘A rush of variable oystercatchers (they always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere). Or look up and notice how albatrosses fly so effortlessly, “a gliding of albatrosses.

What inspired Melissa to write this book is her passion for conservation. At the end of her book she has included a checklist of the conservation status of each bird ranging from not threatened to nationally critical. This makes for very sobering reading. We have a huge number of endangered birds in New Zealand, per km more than any other country in the world.

I think this book is a great introduction to some of our native bird life. It may well inspire families to go and do some bird spotting as well as heightening their awareness of the need to protect them.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Harper Collins Publishers NZ.