A Bird Watching Book Review
For those still new to birds and birding, this fun primer is the ideal starting point. Belleny, who also co-founded Black Birders Week, introduces avian biology, anatomy, and culture with clever jokes and uncommon perspective.
This pocket-sized folding guide features the 715 species found east of the Rocky Mountains, and includes plenty of space for on-site notes and building a life list.
The Peterson Guide to Birds of North America
The latest edition of the classic Peterson guide to birds in North America combines the previous Eastern and Western guides into one book. The layout and digitally enhanced photos are familiar to anyone who has used the most recent edition of the Eastern guide, and there is also much overlap with the new edition of National Geographic’s field guide. However, this book is larger and the thumbnail maps are readable – unlike the Eastern version which was often too small to be useful.
The text is updated and the bird silhouettes are enlarged to reveal more detail, and the classic Peterson system of arrows pointing to diagnostic features is retained. A useful front section on how to get started as a birder is included, and there are detailed family groupings at the back of the book. An online companion to the book is available with 35 entertaining and informative video podcasts, which can be downloaded to a MP3 player or computer desktop.
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America is the most comprehensive and detailed field guide for this region. It features more illustrations per species than any other guide, a feature that is especially helpful for highly variable birds like gulls and Red-tailed Hawks. It also has detailed descriptions that include size approximations, behavior, habitat, breeding and migration, voice description, and comparisons with similar species. It also has excellent range maps.
This edition is updated with the most important information on the status and distribution of each species. It includes expanded text on critical field marks, a more intuitive layout of color photographs to make them easier to compare and more detail in the artwork. The underwing and dorsal drawings of Sooty Shearwaters now reflect the kaleidoscope of colors that these shearwaters exhibit when they are molting.
Unlike Kaufman’s guide, this one leaves the background of each photograph in place and adds notations over the photos to identify specific areas of interest. Having this information on hand in the field is invaluable.
The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America
Despite its compact size, this guide includes a full color photograph of every bird. It is organized by type, rather than taxonomically, which makes it easier to find unfamiliar birds. It also has a color-coded table of contents and thumb indentations on each page to make it easy to open the right section quickly.
Ken Kaufman is one of America’s best known birders, and his guides are designed to be extremely user-friendly. He believes that learning bird identification is less about memorizing long lists of field marks than it is understanding what you’re seeing and hearing. To that end, his guides are more oriented toward helping you understand the environment in which a species will likely be found than most other field guides.
Jonathan Alderfer has served as the principal artist since the third edition, and he works closely with Dunn to improve the book’s usefulness in the field. The latest edition includes a new introduction, dozens of changes by the American Ornithologists’ Union in official names, and updated range maps.
The Birder’s Field Guide to Birds of North America
The Stokes’ new photographic guide to 853 North American birds sets the standard for how much birding bang you can get in a single field guide. The design is superbly thought out, such as the use of photos to illustrate how similar species look (the plate showing Cormorants in flight includes a Brown Creeper for comparison). The text follows a “holistic” approach to identification, stressing the importance of looking at habitat, behavior, and vocalizations in addition to field marks. The guide also features a CD of the calls and songs for the book’s 853 species.
The Stokes’ new guide is lighter and more compact than the previous edition, which was published in 2008. This update also incorporates changes to taxonomy following the radical shift instituted by the American Ornithological Society and standardized banding codes, a one-page quick-find index inside the front cover, and detailed maps for the 59 species with multiple subspecies. The book also contains a wealth of useful information on size approximations, behavior, vocalizations, food and feeding, seasonal and breeding ranges, and historical sightings.