David Allen Sibley became a household name in the birding world when his first guidebook sold more than a half million copies.
Now, 14 years later, he’s come out with a second edition of his famed “Sibley Guide to the Birds.” The new edition has more specific range maps, an additional 100 species considered rare in North America and a checklist for tracking your life sightings. He also retouched or enhanced about half of the more than 700 original paintings included in the second edition.
Sibley, who will give a talk at the Bell Museum on April 2, chatted with us from his home in Concord, Mass., about the digital incursion on the natural world, why he thinks of his guidebooks as address books and birding with John James Audubon.
Q: Was there always going to be a second edition?
A: Yes, in my mind, always. I was interested in the second edition even as I was working on the first. It’s safe to say that I’ve been thinking about the third. There are always things to add, things to fix.
Q: How do you view your guidebooks?
A: My books are address books, so to speak. Your friends are in there. You recognize them. You continue the conversation. The ultimate goal is to introduce people to birds so they get out and make connections.
Q: And birding?
A: I think of birding as getting to know a community of friends. People talk that way about birds: who’s back in town, who left town. Birders gossip about birds. Going into the field is connecting with nature, but it’s also to keep tab on the birds you see.
Q: How does the new edition reflect the changes you see in birding?
A: I think there have been some significant changes. It mostly has to do with digital photography. Put the photos on a computer screen and you can zoom in on details hard to see at a distance. Small details are now field marks. There’s been a shift in the past 75 years from broad color patterns and gestalt to more detail. We have better optics, plus the cameras. Birders rely less on overall impression than they did 30 years ago.
Q: What changes do you see coming in the next 10 years?
A: I suspect more than anything things will be more digital. There will be an app that allows you to identify bird songs on the spot. There will be an app that lets you speak the description and narrow your ID choices down to a few species. People will use their smartphones for identifying birds.