The purpose of this book is to provide a national overview of the conservation status of birds occurring in Australian territory that meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN 2011) Red List criteria for Extinct, Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Near Threatened. In 2010, these included 238 taxa at the species or subspecies level. Taxa in other IUCN categories are not addressed.
The bulk of the content (409 pp.) is devoted to Conservation Summaries, one for each taxa in these high-risk categories. Each summary begins with a history of previous IUCN status, notes on taxonomy, a description of the range, a range map, notes on abundance, a brief account of relevant ecology, and a brief discussion of threats. The summary then moves on to a table showing the taxons current eligibility against IUCN criteria, and lists of conservation objectives, information required (e.g., research and monitoring needs), and management actions required. Items in these last three sections are typically both brief and specific, but they lack timelines, costs, or suggestions for who might implement each action.
Each Conservation Summary concludes with a bibliography that typically includes an extensive selection of titles that most of us are not very familiar with. In checking on several of these citations, I found that there are a large number of recovery plans (e.g., Mathieson and Smith 2009) that detail the timelines, budgets, and responsible parties that are only summarized in this book. I found a few references to be missing from the bibliographies, but I doubt that this is a serious problem. Although there are no bird drawings or photos in the book, you can quickly find photos on the Web to round out your understanding.
The other sections of the book cover the methodology of how the IUCN criteria were applied and a few summary tables. The methodology reveals a very broad and patient application of criteria through data analysis, expert opinion, and peer review. There also is an important appendix that explains why taxa listed in the Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett and Crowley 2000) are not listed in the current 2010 version. This is a most useful summary of status change that gives the reader a clear explanation and that almost certainly has fended off some angry phone calls.
In fact, this is the third iteration of the Action Plan, a yet earlier version having been published in 1992 (Garnett 1992). The more I looked into the book's methodology, the level of detail, and the careful comparisons from decade to decade, the more I came to appreciate the integrity and value of its content. This is a substantial, long-term commitment to understanding the threats to these birds and to taking conservation action in the right places for the right taxa.
This book is a very well-crafted portal to bird conservation in Australia. Clearly, it will be of great value to those working in that region. But anyone interested in bird conservation more generally might want to pick this up. I was somewhat surprised to find myself reading more and more of the book, to compare ecologies, threats, and solutions that I'm familiar with in the Western Hemisphere to what's going on in Australia. For example, feral honey bees, feral cats, feral rabbits, and foxes are often cited as problems for particular taxa. So one wonders whether, for example, feral cats should be getting more attention here in the United States than they are. Thus, anyone working in conservation planning at the species, subspecies, or population levels might find some new ideas in this book.