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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

Maybe the best-designed birding field guide ever ....

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 — 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



How about feeding dog kibble to the birds?

Ever fed dog kibble to birds? Have you put kibble out at your feeders as a seed substitute, perhaps in the winter? 


Nutrition-wise, this is not a bad idea, particularly in the winter.


I asked this question to members of a professional ornithologist email list. I wanted confirmation of my experiences — Blue Jays will one-by-one carry kibble chunks away to cache for later use, working until the platter is cleansed.


But, how about smaller birds, assuming they could get a bite in edgewise?


Zoo nutritionists say that dog chow is well-balanced nutritionally, and has a more appropriate level of fat than cat chow, another, lesser, option. The trick is to find a brand that soaks ups liquid without turning to mush.


Recommended by one respondent was Eukanuba Small Breed Puppy food. It comes in small pellets, much like Grape Nuts breakfast cereal, perhaps making it more attractive to smaller birds, not that the jays would ignore it. It has good protein and fat content, again a winter consideration.


Another person was using starlings for a research projects. He said his birds were happy and fat on their dog chow diet. Generic brands did not work as well as the better-known major brands, I was told.


Use only good quality, high-protein brands, this person said. He mentioned that rabbit pellets also work. This was fed to pigeons and doves chosen for research, along with their regular corn and bird seed.


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