The best-designed field guide for the identification of birds that I’ve ever seen is, unfortunately, of limited use to North American birders. That doesn’t mean you should overlook it. On the contrary. Find it. Page through it. Use it when you can. You might even buy it as a piece of bird-publishing art.
The book is “Britain’s Birds: An identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland,” distributed by Princeton University Press.
This is a beautiful book, useful, complete, and extremely well designed. That’s why I like it so much: It is well done, right down to cover stock and binding.
Perhaps you remember a few years back the ID guide created by Richard Crossley. He used photos of birds, many photos, a given bird from several points of view, flying, perching, swimming. He imposed these photos on a scenic photo background to place the birds in their habitat.
Nice idea, but it didn’t work for me. It was too much. The pages looked cluttered. The book was poorly done.
This Britain / Ireland guide uses pretty much the same idea, but to perfection.
If you have a Sibley guide, open to any page. No criticism meant here for this is my go-to book, but his pages are almost sterile. Well-drawn birds on white backgrounds, with minimal text.
Pages in the Britain guide are filled with photos, background images, and text, no white space. Not filled-busy. Filled by design. The pages are visually warm. The information here is more than complete. Necessary information and textual enhancements obviously have been well considered. Much is done within the limitations of a page.
This is because the book is beautifully designed. Identification guides yet to be published for North American birds might want to study this British book.
Usually, you have to go to the credits page at the front of a book to find in small type the name of the designer. Sometimes, that information is missing, as important as designers can be to the success of a book.
In this case, the name of the design firm is on the cover. It must have helped the creation of this book that one of the five men given credit on the cover for photos and text also is one of the designers.
The men are Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop, and David Tipling. Robert Still has the design background, as co-founder and publishing director of WILDguides, publisher of this book. (I’d like to see other books in their identification series.)
The other four authors also have backgrounds of significance. The knowledge and experience brought to this book by five men with varied backgrounds in wildlife and birding must be elements that make this book outstanding.
How is this guide, focused on the British Isles, useful here? Well, some of “our” birds have ranges that extend to Britain and Europe. There always are stray species, wanderers who make it west across the Atlantic to North American shores.
Minnesota readers will be familiar with many birds in the waterfowl, shorebird, seabird, gull, and tern sections. Commonality continues into doves, pigeons, owls, and raptors. There are far fewer shared species once the book gets to songbirds.
This book treats vagrant species, particularly those from North America, in a very clear and handy fashion. There are pages throughout the book devoted to strays in particular family groups. There is a master page listing all of the families from which North American vagrants come, the number of species in each of those families, and a page-number guide.
I have my usual quibble about the colors used for this book’s range maps and designations for conservation status — brown, red, and green, I think, since I see those colors poorly. I am among eight percent of men worldwide who distinguish certain colors with difficulty. I always wonder why book designers chose the same impossible colors over and over.
Why aren’t blue, yellow, gray, and orange on range-map palets? Or stripes or dots or something other than brown, red, and green. How hard can it be? Is there a rule?
Here is a page from the book, for Great Northern Diver, aka Common Loon