Field Guides

The two most important items in a bird watcher’s tote-bag are binoculars and a field guide. We will talk about binoculars elsewhere and focus here on the books. There are a variety of guides available, all with strong points and weak points. In reality all are good. Your favorite guide will usually be the first one you buy. With time, though, it is advantageous to pick up several complimentary guides. As you do so, make sure the added guide’s strong points fill weak points of the one or ones you are already using.

For many years the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America was the standard bird guide. Its strength was in carefully pointing out the unique features of every bird species. However, the guide was in black and white with all bird pictures together in the middle of the book. Then came the ability to print in color – a huge advantage for the bird watcher. The Peterson Guide can still be purchased, but with the birds in color and located with the description. Well-worn now, A Field Guide to Birds of North America by Golden Press is this writer’s first and still favorite guide. It has good descriptions and unique Sonagrams are included for most of the birds. In the field, one can compare the physical sound chart with the song being heard to help identify the bird. A weak point is there being only one pose of the birds, and this is usually in profile.

A few years ago the two Sibley Guides to Eastern North America and to Western North America birds became available. These are also good guides. Their largest plus is multiple poses of the birds and bright colors (although some of them are unrealistically bright). The American Museum of Natural History has published a guide using photographs, rather than paintings. The Smithsonian has also produced a bird guide using photographs. Included with the Smithsonian guide is a CD containing 587 bird vocalizations totaling five and one half hours of play. There are also guides specifically designed for Birding novices.

This is only a sampling of general guides, and, in addition, there are in-detail guides for specific bird types. We don’t have all the options available on the market, but we do stock many of them.

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