When my son was 7 years old, I bought him one of the pocket sized Golden Guide to Birds. I had just gotten interested in birdwatching and I hoped he would be inspired to join me in this ‘sport’. He loved that little book. I would find him in bed at night with a flashlight so he could study the pictures and read about the birds. It paid off years later. While he was never enthusiastic about it while a teenager, as an adult, I would label him a birdwatcher.
When I first got interested in this lifelong passion, I bought the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. This version came out in 1980. The original Field Guide to the Birds was published in 1934 and for nearly two decades was the ‘bible’ for birdwatchers. It was written and illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson
, the one man who did more for the avocation of birdwatching that any other person. It is currently in its sixth edition.
thing about becoming a dedicated birdwatcher is that you are constantly looking for newer and better field guides. As your skills improve, you need more information on the finer details of the various species. The publishing industry has not failed to meet that need. The number of field guides now available is almost limitless (only restricted by your pocketbook and shelf space).
I myself currently have 9 of them. Some are more specific; for Warblers, for Hawks, for Southern California. Some are the right size to take into the field (4 ½” X 7 ½”), while others, including my current favorite – the National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America – are slightly larger and heavier.
My second purchase after the Peterson book was the Golden Guide to Birds of North America (the full size, not pocket book). I liked it because not only did it show the birds well, but it included Range Maps in the margin next to the description of the birds. This became important as it helped me narrow down my choices when I was seeing a new bird.
Then National Geographic came out with their guide in 1983 and I found the illustrations larger and more detailed and it has been my favorite ever since. Because of its larger size -5X8”- fewer species are profiled on each page, increasing the total number of pages in the book. The original does not go out into the field with me anymore, because its spine shows the wear and tear of many ar’s use, and it contains in the index at the back of the book all the check marks, dates and locations of birds I saw while using it. I have since purchased two more of the National Geo guides and they will serve me well, I’m sure, for the rest of my life.
I no longer have the Peterson Guide, nor the National Audubon Guides. I have given them away. I have one guide by Lillian and Donald Stokes that is illustrated with photographs of the birds of North America; Eastern Region. Generally, I find the guides with photographs to be less effective for birding excursions, due to the challenges of photographing in various levels of light. But there is a place and use for these kinds of guides. Stan Tekeila is a Minnesota photographer and Naturalist who has published smaller photographic guidebooks for individual states and the birds you are most likely to see there. These are good introductory books and helpful to have near a window where you watch the birds come to your feeders. Another good guide for beginners was introduced in 2000 by Kenn Kaufman.
David Sibley came out with the next version of a North American Birds field guide. It took Sibley 12 years to complete this guidebook and the artwork is magnificent, but this book is even bigger and heavier than the National Geographic, so it is one best kept at home or maybe in the car. I use it as a reference if I’ve seen a bird and my other field guides haven’t helped me confirm a species.
If you’re like me and love looking at birds, you too may find yourself filling up your bookshelf with these beautiful and information filled volumes. They will increase your pleasure and commitment to birdfeeding and bird watching.
By Kate Crowley