british birds


The best bird identification guide I have seen, ever, is sitting on my desk as I type. Unfortunately, it is a guide to British birds.


The full title is “British Birds, a Pocket Guide.” 


Like all guides it has illustrations (in this case photos), text, and maps. What makes this one worth mentioning is the excellent design. (There are other excellent features as well.)


Regardless of the quality of photos or text or maps, poor design can hinder the usefulness of an ID book. This British guide helps the identification effort beyond the usual. It enhances your efforts, makes the ID job easier.


What do I like, and which features might we wish for in the next North American guide? It would be a long list. Best of all I like the silhouettes of selected members of several bird families or groups: birds on water, standing birds, perched birds, small landbirds, birds in flight, in most cases separate sets for large and small examples. Seabird families are shown this way in addition to photos. And waders. Birds on the water, on the ground, in the air. The silhouettes are an important addition here.


I accidentally opened the book to pages for Herring Gull. There, flying across the top of facing pages was the gull in eight images, each showing a different phase of the gull’s advancing plumage, year by year, clearly labeled. Ditto other gull species. The information is presented in orderly, logical fashion. A great idea.


Males and females, juveniles and adults, all shown in excellent photos (a hallmark of this book). Photos throughout are on the smallish side (this truly is a book that will fit in an ordinary pocket, another point in its favor), smallish but well chosen.


And on and on. You have to see this book to understand just how much better it is than what we use for North American birds.


The design was done by Robert Still, sharing credit for the book with Rob Hume, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop, and David Tipling.  Still also is co-founder and publishing director of WILDGuides, the house from which this book came. This is the first time I have seen a designer given credit, and it’s well deserved because, again, the book could have been another ordinary effort but for his skill. Designers should always be listed by name. It might improve the quality of their work.


Publisher is Princeton Press. There are 1,600 photos, 248 maps, and 259 of the silhouettes I like so much. It’s called paperback, but has a sewn binding for long life, durable covers, 272 pages, index. Price is a surprising $12.99. The book is worth more than that.




There are many books in the WILDsGuides, Ltd., identification series. I also have their “Britain’s Mammals,” a larger book with more text, and, again, excellent photography. Here I liked most the beautiful photos of small mammals, the voles, mice, shrews, rats, and the dormouse. This part of this book is useful here, particularly the section on photographing and live trapping these animals. Again, Princeton Press, same binding, 328 pages, index, $29.95.