The Peterson (Roger Tory) Reference Guide series of bird identification books continues with another fine ID assist, perhaps the most-needed of recent issues.
Latest in this series deals with North American sparrows, those LBJs, AKA the “little brown jobs” that can be tough ID challenges. Sparrows are small, wary, and often prefer heavy cover. Try getting a good look at a Grasshopper Sparrow in its tall-grass habitat.
Previous books in this series have dealt with gulls, woodpeckers (2016), bird sounds (2017), and a 12-step program for bird identification (2018).
The books are published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with sponsorship by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and the National Wildlife Federation.
“The Sparrows of North America” was written by Rick Wright. His credentials are extensive: first, guide for bird tours, then holder of MA and PhD degrees in German from Princeton University, assistant professor of German at the University of Illinois, reader/scholar at Princeton’s Index of Christian Art, and, finally, associate professor of medieval studies at Fordham University.
Wright, as might be expected, writes very well. His examination of each species begins with naming — who named the bird, when, and why. These are stories that could by themselves be a book.
In 369 pages, Wright thoroughly examines 76 members of what he calls the sparrow clan. This includes juncos and towhees.
Field identification information is extensive, plumage and similar species covered in detail. The similar species comparisons are of particular value.
He discussed range and geographic variations.
His discussion of Savannah Sparrow, for example, is just under 10,000 words long. This, too, could be a book. You will not find more complete or better written accounts of these birds than than provided here by Wright.
Large, with sewn binding, the book is well-made, hardly pocket size, not a book you’re likely to take into the field. This is a book you read before you leave the house. It is an entertaining as well as informative read, dealing with more than the mechanics of identification.
Wright’s many interests surely include a deep passion for birds. This book must have taken years of field and reference work. In the birding world this could be considered the work of a lifetime.
Each species account is illustrated with more than 300 fine photos, many by Brian Small, a California birders/photographer who leads the photographic ID field. There are pages of notes on text sources, and a very complete index.
The book is priced at $35. It will be released in March.
That’s just in time for the migration return of these beautiful birds.