February 2, 2011

Bird book reviews – and no place to go…

Every bird watcher from beginner to expert is familiar with the quintessential bird book—the field guide. For most people this is either the famous green bound Roger Tory Peterson or the  Golden Guide to Birds. A field guide is basically a visual checklist, an aid to identifying the birds that whiz by. Often broken into east and west editions a field guide to the entire North America arranges the roughly 800 species of birds by taxonomic order. The market is flooded with wonderful field guides by such institutions and authors as National Geographic, Smithsonian, National Audubon Society and authors like Donald and Lillian Stokes, Ken Kaufman, David Sibley, and to this day, Roger Tory Peterson. But beyond this pile of invaluable field guides is another category of bird book that is often overlooked. It is a heavy, textual tome to the birds of North America and it contains little to no pictures. Known as a "field guide companion" these books give the life history, breeding behavior, migration and other information about an individual specie beyond visual identification clues.

These volumes are arranged in the same order as most field guides but intersperse information about flight, nesting, egg laying, migration, history, and biology. These books are not meant to be carried into the field but they make for wonderful browsing. As the biggest winter storm in recent U.S. history rolls across over 2000 miles of land these are the books you want to wile away to the hours with. I recommend three:

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and BehaviorThe Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior
By David Allen Sibley
“Even though these things do not have direct application to identification, and are not included in the identification guide, these behaviors are truly fascinating, and birders enjoy knowing about them. The plan for this book was to provide a layperson’s introduction to the most intriguing and interesting facets of the birds’ lives – emphasizing things that birders are likely to see and ask about, and things that add to a larger picture of the natural world.” 

The Birder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American BirdsBirder's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. By Paul Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin and Darryl Wheye
“The essays are presented on the right-hand pages facing these species treatments. They vary in length and cover important and interesting biological topics -- how flamingos feed, how different species of warblers divide hunting areas in conifer trees, how species are formed, how raptors can be conserved, why shorebirds sometimes stand on one foot, why birds rub themselves with ants, how migrating birds find their way, why the Passenger Pigeon became extinct, what determines how often hummingbirds feed, and what duck display mean, just to name a few of the numerous topics addressed. Also included is a series of biographical sketches of bird biologists who have made important contributions to understanding our birds, and some notes on the origins and meanings of North American bird names. To the degree possible, these essays are placed opposite species to which they are most relevant."

Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion: A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American BirdsPete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion: A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds
By Pete Dunne
"In this book, bursting with more information than any field guide could hold, the well-known author and birder Pete Dunne introduces readers to the "Cape May School of Birding." It's an approach to identification that gives equal or more weight to a bird's structure and shape and the observer's overall impression (often called GISS, for General Impression of Size and Shape) than to specific field marks.

This supplement to field guides shares the knowledge and skills that expert birders bring to identification challenges. Birding should be an enjoyable pursuit for beginners and experts alike, and Pete Dunne combines a unique playfulness with the work of identification. Readers will delight in his nicknames for birds, from the Grinning Loon and Clearly the Bathtub Duck to Bronx Petrel and Chicken Garnished with a Slice of Mango and a Dollop of Raspberry Sherbet."

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