Titled Melbirds, it’s a child-friendly guide to birds you will see in the backyards and parks of Melbourne.
Dr Livingston, a keen amateur bird photographer, or ‘‘bird nerd’’, said existing guides were either wordy tomes for adults or had many birds not seen in Melbourne.
Melbirds, aimed at children aged four to eight, gives a colour photo of each bird and a few sentences on its size, behaviour and appearance.
It tells you that the Australasian grebe, a water bird, can carry babies on its back for weeks. And that if you see a bright blue Superb fairy-wren, it will be a male − females are mostly brown. They’re described in the book as “tiny little puffballs”.
After presenting Melbirds to a delighted Audra, Dr Livingston and Dr Hauser offered it as a free PDF on their website. It’s had 3129 downloads. It hasn’t been released as a book, but can be printed out.
One fan wanted to give the authors something, even a coffee, but Dr Hauser asked them to donate to BirdLife Australia.
‘‘And really, passing your love of nature on to your 2.5-year-old is the best outcome we can imagine,’’ Dr Hauser replied.
Dr Livingston, himself often spotted at the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee or the Trin Warren Tam-boore wetland in Parkville, said no bread or chips were used in snapping photos for the book.
But it was hard to restrict the list to 64.
Obvious inclusions are seagulls (silver gulls), magpies and cockatoos. The couple excluded caged birds, such as budgerigars, and those that are too hidden from view, such as lyrebirds.
Dr Livingston didn’t fancy climbing on a skyscraper or cliff to photograph peregrine falcons, so they’re also not included.
Powerful Owls are nocturnal, and blend into trees, but Dr Livingston found one at Banyule Flats near Heidelberg.
At the back of the book are blank pages for kids’ own sightings. Audra noted a house sparrow in her backyard. Her favourite bird is the kookaburra ‘‘because it laughs’’.
The authors now want to create Sydney and Brisbane versions. Asked what he hopes Melbirds achieves, Dr Livingston said: ‘‘I hope it might help kids get excited about birds and about the wild.’’
Audra’s mother, Rebecca Corn, who is a primary school teacher, said it encouraged her family to venture beyond city parks and playgrounds.
“We’ve been to Werribee Gorge, and to Mount Dandenong. Sometimes our kids don’t like going for bushwalks, but it gives a purpose – to find some new birds to add in.’’
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.