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Artist Norman Arlott describes The Complete Birds of the World

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Norman Arlott
Artist Norman Arlott with a plate of bird art. His new book is The Complete Birds of the World: Every Species Illustrated.

The Complete Birds of the World: Every Species Illustrated is a single-volume book that illustrates every single bird species. The guide, to be published by Princeton University Press in September (hardcover, $65), is accessibly written, practically designed, and one of a kind. There has never been a single volume text to illustrate every avian species.

This book is also, notably, the latest work from Norman Arlott. He is one of the world’s leading bird artists, having illustrated more than 100 books over the course of his career. He also has led birding tours in East Africa, and he has designed bird stamps for countries including Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands, to name a few.

Arlott spoke with BirdWatching about his life’s work.

“I originally trained as a mechanical engineer, then in the ’70s I ‘jumped ship’ to take up my real love as a wildlife artist, concentrating mainly on birds, with much encouragement from my wife Marie and a great deal of help and inspiration from well-known bird artist Robert Gillmor, bird photographer Eric Hosking, and the great East African ornithologist John Williams. Although I had no intention of working on book illustrations, I got caught up in it and really liked it, and I have enjoyed it ever since.

“In the last 15 years I have concentrated mainly on writing and illustrating a series of bird guides (more colored checklists, really) covering the Palearctic, India, the West Indies, North America, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. Many of these illustrations and text feature in the forthcoming Birds of the World.

“It was following the last of these guides that I was asked to consider putting together a complete colored checklist to the birds of the world using the vast HarperCollins artwork archive. There were a few areas that HarperCollins did not have suitable artwork, such as Australia, New Guinea, and some small island groups, so I painted all of these in readiness for putting together the Birds of the World plates.

“I decided that to even start this project, a standard ‘list’ was needed. It was decided that the IOC world list as of January 2019 was the one I would rigidly follow. Using mainly mine and Ber Van Perlo’s artwork, I promised HarperCollins that I was able to put together the 301 plates and hopefully make a really satisfying (to look at) book, even though some of the plates may contain a great number of species.

“Although told by many that I was an ‘idiot’ to take on such a project, I admit at times I had to agree! Overall, I genuinely enjoyed the experience of working electronically to produce plates and hopefully I fulfilled the promise I made to the publisher to produce an attractive and practical book to the birds of the world.”

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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