Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Books on Birds: What’s Your Fav?

I am a reader; I like to research, I enjoy reference books…especially on topics close to my heart. I don’t believe one can have too many books on a subject…but then I am book rich and money poor. LOL

Okay, so I’m on a limited budget…I have a couple books on birds and know I want to enlarge my library. I think another ‘general’ field guide to birds I’m apt to see might be a good idea. While I’m interested in all birds…I doubt I’m going to be heading to exotic countries where I might have trouble identifying those I see. Right now, I am specifically interested in the birds in my world. I ‘get it’ that Sibley is today’s bird bible…and agree; I find mine invaluable, but I appreciate different points of view and think another good field guide is a good idea.

Field Guides: which of those on birds do you find give you the most and most valuable information? I own:
  • The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley

    I like this book…and its size. I understand his guide to birds includes both East and West…but is bulkier to carry around. Still, some birds found here are only found in the ‘Eastern’ book… Having said this, I enjoy the bits of superfluous information he offers, as well as pointers on field markers and coloration of immature birds and behavior in habitat, etc.
  • A National Geographic Field Manual (Probably for Western America)…but it is in a box in the ton of books in my garage...I'm trying to get my house remodeled.

    While I don’t have the book in my hands, I can say it is a more difficult book to hold in my hands than is the Sibley book I own. Also…it is arranged by color, of all things; not unlike their book on Wildflowers. This is both a good and a bad thing, in my mind. I find I learn more reading of several birds in a species…

I am considering:

I am also interested in specific families of birds; hummingbirds; birds of prey, including the Shrikes; and the corvids. I’m betting this is pretty typical of new birders and it’s likely my list of favorites will grow; but in the meantime…what books on specific groups of birds have you found to be absolutely stunning in their depth of information and presentation? Somewhere I have:

  • An older, small, paperback book on Hummingbirds which I wish I had in my hands right now! I’d like to get books on specific groups I find especially interesting. I tend to haunt Amazon’s ‘Used’ books…so the book needn’t be new to suggest; I might still find it.

How about books or CDs on birdsound? I am interested in learning to identify birds I hear; any especially good choices? The idea of an I-Pod loaded with hundreds of bird-sounds absolutely appeals to me…especially in that a photo can be included for each. Course, I just discovered I can have Wikipedia on my cell-phone (for a subscription fee); an addictive morsel for one who likes information. Right now learning bird calls is high on my list of things to do… but there is a plethora of choices. Have you favorites? So far I have:

  • Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky and Jon L. Dunn

    A fun ‘coffee-table’ sort of book…page number references recording number’; the bird-calls seem spot-on, but oddly the book is arranged by habitat. Perhaps that is a good thing for some folks, but I find it difficult to use as ‘reference’. I was concerned the batteries might wear out and not be available to swap, but I was wrong; and it’s still going strong. My backyard birds think I’m a weird duck…but perhaps my neighbors do too!

Do you have favorite books on specific hobies that involve birds? Sketching, painting, photographing, carving birds? I’d like to hear your favorites here, too. I am considering:

What about books on how to care for or attract birds; any favorites here? Again…not so interested in which you have, but which you found to be the best! I’m a gardener with a new yard…it’s a work in progress, so I’ll find all manner of book interesting. So far, I have:

Just because I find Julie Zickerfoose (blog, articles, etc) so fascinating, I’m also considering:

Books for newbies or for specific challenges. I’ve found two that I totally enjoy and heartily recommend to anybody just starting out. Heck, Thompson’s book is probably great for any casual birder; there’s a lot of good information and advice in there:

I sincerely hope you leave your suggestions (click the word COMMENTS, below)…so that we can all find several books we might enjoy...and why. Thanks!!!


Julie Zickefoose said...

Gee whiz, Beverly! Thanks so much for the multiple shoutouts! I hope you get your boxed books back soon!

Beverly said...

Yeah, not having my books where I can get TO them is sort of like keeping your pets locked away! I miss 'em...

Multiple shoutouts? You two do good work; everybody knows that! LOL

Bosque Bill said...

For light reading and entertainment I use our excellent local library system exclusively. But for reference books, you got to own them. Bird guides?... You can't have enough of them.

For years Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds was my bible. I still carry it occasionally and take it on trips (as I have so many notes written inside). I also take it on my bike, as it is the most compact complete field guide. Now, I mostly carry Sibley's Field Guide to Western Birds and bought a nice protective, canvas cover with shoulder strap. I'd probably prefer to use the Peterson guide, as it has excellent images with circles & arrows pointing out important field marks, except for one big reason, it has all the range maps grouped in the back, whereas Sibley and most others put those maps next to the species image and description. When I'm trying to ID a bird in the field I don't want to be trying to find a map to discover I'm looking in the wrong place.

I have the Sibley "big book," his Guide to Birds of North America and think it is an important addition to your library. Yes, it is too big to carry in the field, but I always put it in my car if I go birding and use it at home almost exclusively. It has much more info and more illustrations for each bird than the smaller, lighter Western Field Guide.

I'm becoming a fan of the brand-new Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America. If you want to look at photos instead of illustrations, this is the book for you. Previous photo books were not nearly as useful as a guide. This book does just about everything right and it has the most wonderful binding of any reference book I've ever used - open it to any page set it down and it stays open at that page... there is a super-soft, cloth binding holding the glossy pages within the easy-clean soft covers. Unfortunately, it is way too heavy to carry in the field. Here is a very good review (from a great birding blogger): Read the Review

I also use the National Geographic Field Guide to North American Birds. That used to be my exclusive "reference" now replaced by Sibley.

Local and regional guides and finders are worthwhile, too. I use the NM Bird Finding Guide published by the NM Ornithological Society; check with local birders, or on-line, to see what is available in your area.

I also am working my way through the excellent "Birding in the American West: A Handbook" by Kevin J. Zimmerman (Cornell Press.) It has techniques for finding and identifying birds, and a large section on difficult identifications that go beyond what one typically finds in field guides.

Extremely useful for those hard to ID high-flying raptors is "Hawks in Flight" by Clay Sutton and Peter Dunne. For hummers I recommend "Hummingbirds of North America" by Dan True.

If you don't have anywhere better to buy any of these, please consider tossing a bone my way and look for the Amazon box down the page on my page. The commission I earn helps support my birding web site. Forgive my blatant self promotion.

Beverly said...

This list just in from my friend Gary Lefko over at Colorado Birder (http://www.greatpikespeakbirdingtrail.org/):

1- "Bible" in the field: The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley
Used by every birder in the field for identification purposes.

2-Colorado Breeders: Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas
Only book out there on Colorado breeders--from first atlast 20 years ago or so.

3-Colorado Birds
Local book used by many as a reference on Colorado bird distributions

4-Gulls of Americas
More photos of gulls at various ages then you can possibly imagine.

5-The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong
Why birds sing.

6-National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (National Geographic)
Nice desk reference for birds--not necessarily ID guide

7-The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
You're right--non fiction of one man's journey looking for birds.

Beverly said...

I like how you think, Bill…and when I lived in Denver, I used to use the local library, as well. However, Albuquerque is about 448,000 people larger than the town of 900 in which I live. The town, as well as the town next to it, has a library…but I would not call either of them ‘excellent’. Still, I agree with your comments regarding entertainment and reference; but having said that, I’d probably regularly check out some of the books I’d love to peruse thoroughly: “Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas” and Morris’ book ‘The Art of Bird Photography” to name two…if I were able. Each costs something close to $70…used! While I’m sure they’re worth it…my comments have more to do with my financial situation just now. C'est La Vie

Speaking of used…do you get a small stipend even if I order ‘used’? I’d be happy to help support your site in any way I can…even if it is a small way.

About Peterson’s guide…I’ve heard the same comments you made regarding the maps before; but also believe that as time marches on, different ways of presenting information become favored. Peterson had a good run; I like Sibley’s books and want to support a man of our time (LOL)…but if I can, I’d enjoy having Peterson’s book as an addition. I’m finding that just those different ways of presenting information, plus the various nuggets each writer adds of their own, give me all that much more information on identifying birds. Yeah, we think alike on this, me thinks.

I didn’t know that about Sibley’s ‘big book’ and only expected to have the addition of the Eastern Birds…so it’s good to know that I’d also find more info and illustrations on the birds themselves, if I am able to get one of my own. Thanks!

And thanks, too, for the link to the review of the new Smithsonian book…Bill Schmoker (who has some photographs included), has many links to reviews to the book on his blog; though the one you mention is one of the best; I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yeah, I’m jealous you won it…even if I didn’t play the game to win it! LOL (I’ll tell ya though, I didn’t know ‘spoilt’ was a word!)

Thank you also, for the mention of Zimmerman’s book: Birding in the American West: A Handbook. It sounds like yet another ‘guide’ that would be good for me to add to my growing stack. Hey, I’m a fan of jumping in with both feet…how else to learn and learn fast?

Since I seem to be developing a love affair with hummingbirds, especially that little Calliope, a book on hummers is in order too; what a good deal that a ‘neighbor’ has written one that you recommend! I’ll look for it………..from YOUR site!

Bosque Bill said...

Yes, it is often fun, but sometimes very valuable to be able to consult a number of different books when trying to ID a "problem" bird. Each artist/author/photographer has his own take on the presentation and sometimes those small differences can really help us figure out what we are seeing.

Also note, that sometimes errors can get printed and colors can be slightly off. David Sibley is good about putting those errata up on his web site.

I learned lots from the introductory chapters in Dan True's hummingbird book. Interesting stuff!

As far as I know, if you make any purchase using my links and that product is on any page on amazon.com I get a small commission. So that should apply to used books, too. Can't hurt to try and I'd appreciate it.

You might also check if your library belongs to any inter-library load program - many do. Then you can 'order' any book from a participating library and it will be sent to your local.