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Birding Field Guides

A good field guide to birds will help you with identification, but not all guides are created equally. Here are some tips for choosing a guide for North American birds:

  • Some books cover the entire continent, others specialize either in eastern or western birds (the Mississippi River is the traditional dividing line). If all your birding is local and your are not near the Mississippi River, you can pick up a book covering your side of the river.
  • Books with paintings are normally better than those with photographs.
  • Look for a comprehensive display of alternate plumages (plumages within a species can vary by sex, age and/or season of the year).
  • Look for range maps that are easy to interpret.

National Geographic's and David Sibley's field guides are the best (see below) -- you can't go wrong with either, and many serious birders use both. Sometimes NatGeo has better illustrations, sometimes Sibley. Sibley is noted for a thorough display of juvenile and alternative plumages. NatGeo

tends to have more extensive commentary on each species, but Sibley often has unique insights. Sibley can be purchased either as a single book (which some birders find too big to carry) or as two separately-sold compact volumes, one for birds east of the Mississippi and one for those west. NatGeo lies between these size extremes and is quite portable.

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