Field Guides - Who Was That Bird?
by Jayne Rushin
you are interested in birds, you will find it more fun if you can
identify them. The more birds you recognize the easier it becomes.
When learning to identify birds, a good field guide is an essential
tool. There are innumerable books with gorgeous bird pictures on the
market, but a field guide is designed specifically to assist in
Most beginning birders find identification much easier with a field
guide that illustrates with drawings rather than with photographs.
Birds like people can be highly variable, and photographs can be
misleading when you are trying to identify an unknown bird.
Beginners also might be wise to choose a "regional" guide rather
than one with all the birds of North America included. If you are
looking at a bird in your backyard in Alabama it can be a bit
tedious and even confusing to try and find its picture in a book
that has 3 or 4 hundred birds included that are only found west of
the Rocky Mountains.
You will no doubt find several different guides at your local
bookstore. A field guide will have a full color illustration of each
bird along with a description that includes: overall size, bill
color and shape, wing shape and size, and identifying markings.
There also will be a brief description of habitat, a map showing
seasonal ranges with migration routes, and a discussion of songs and
The following three guides are the preferred choices of beginning
and experienced birders. The "Peterson" and "Sibley" guides are
published in regional editions and the "National Geographic Guide"
includes all the birds found in North America.
In 1934 when Roger Tory Peterson published
his first field guide, he set the standard for all the other field
guides that have followed. Peterson illustrated his own work,
using arrows to pinpoint significant features of each bird for quick
field identification. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, the
most recent edition of Petersonís book is entitled: Birds of Eastern and Central North
America. Range maps are found at the back of the book. A new
feature of this edition is the addition of a small range map on the
page with the species illustration and description. There also is a
Peterson field guide for western birds.
Roger Tory Peterson is a legend among birders, and for good reason.
This is his final book -- he died peacefully after spending the day
painting for this guide -- and it reflects Peterson's decades-long
experience creating one of the most widely used identification
systems for birds.
favorite of many birders, National Geographic Societyís Field
Guide to the Birds of North America is very readable and
has excellent descriptions. The fourth edition of this popular
field guide adds some valuable features, including updated maps and
taxonomic classifications. A new "quick-find" index of common groups
refers experienced birders to the right page, fast, but won't be
much use to novices. Nevertheless, the book's organization is clear,
the illustrations are realistic and more colorful than ever, and the
range maps are easy to understand. The guide covers all North
American bird species, including seabirds. In his introduction to
the new edition, Cornell ornithologist John W. Fitzpatrick motivates
birders of all levels, extolling the virtues of this field guide in
helping ordinary citizens add to the store of scientific knowledge.
And he's right: marking the little checkboxes in the index as you
spot each species is satisfying science that can be done by anyone,
including kids. Another delightful feature is the phonetic spellings
of bird calls, such as the "kakakowlp-kowlp" of the Yellow-billed
Cuckoo or the "few-few-fawee" of the Western bluebird. This
remains one of the best portable bird guides in publication, tough
enough to take in the field, but detailed enough for hours of
The Sibley Guide to Birds is published in Eastern and Western Editions.
The guides include basic information such as the parts of a bird and
general color-coded maps. The color-coded maps that accompany each
bird show where the birds live throughout North America, so that
birders in, say, Pennsylvania, will know to look for the Northern
Mockingbird in Ohio as well. And, of course, Sibley's beautiful
full-colored paintings of birds jump out at every page.
Leaf through the field guides in a bookstore, and select the one
that appeals to you. Be sure to check the pages that contain
pictures of birds you already know. A book in which the pages have
been stitched together before the binding is glued on will hold up
best. Always buy the very latest edition, since the material in a
field guide is constantly being revised and updated.
order a Field Guide. click here
to see AWCA selections and recommendations.
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