Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
It’s hard to keep up with the publication of new bird identification guidebooks. The new larger-format edition of the “Peterson Field Guide to the Birds” was issued some months ago. This features larger illustrations and directions to video podcasts (www.petersonfieldguides.com). This book has been broken into eastern and western versions smaller in size. These are familiar books if you’ve used Peterson guides before, with updated text and range maps. Then there are recently “Birds of North America"; published by the American Museum of Natural History, the “Field Guide to the Birds of North America”; published by the National Wildlife Federation; and the “Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds.” I’ve not seen the last three. “Birding” magazine (American Birding Association) reviewer Saibal S. Mitra has seen them, however, and comes to what might be an obvious conclusion: there is little reason to choose one from another. He writes: “But it is the weakness they all share in failing to claim straightforward niches on a birder’s shelf that struck me most forcefully in evaluating these books.” I have several field guides, more than I need. I use the original Sibley guide because I appreciate the number of illustrations he provides for each bird species. There is a lesson they all could learn from Princeton’s new second edition of “Birds of Europe.” It’s a handsome book, useful here to a degree because we share so many species one way or another with Europe. Its best feature is the length of the text offered with each species. For example, the new Peterson guide uses fewer than 100 words in discussing identification of Short-eared Owl. The Princeton book’s ID text for this species is twice as long. This is its pattern throughout: much more detailed text in support of its illustrations. It follows Sibley in providing an average of six illustrations per species, by sex, age, and activity. The illustrations are small, as are the range maps, a factor of page size and number versus a long list of birds to be included. But birding ID books in general could benefit from its fine idea of expanded text.
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