edited by Jonathan Alderfer
Back in 2005, National Geographic published the National Geographic Complete Guide to the Birds of North America as a “companion to” their field guide. It was basically an expanded version of the field guide (the fourth edition at the time), with family introductions, additional text in the species accounts, and sidebars that tackled more difficult identifications. It was a good intermediate reference – something you could turn to first if you needed more information than is normally found in field guides.
But things have changed since 2005. The North American bird list certainly has, with new species being found or created via taxonomic updates. The National Geographic field guide has also changed, with two extensive updates in the interim (here are the details of the changes from the 4th to 5th editions and 5th to 6th editions). It was time for a second edition, which is based on the sixth and latest edition of the NatGeo field guide. Here’s a quick look at it.
This second edition looks very much like its predecessor, with the same layout and formatting. But it’s bigger (72 additional pages, but only two onces heavier) and, if you look closely, you’ll find many updates. The illustrations look better, with many having been replaced since the previous edition. The range maps are all new, having been revised and updated to include migratory range and subspecies ranges where appropriate (the wonderful subspecies maps from the back of the 6th edition field guide are all included here). This new volume even incorporates some updates over the field guide on which it’s based, including over 70 revised range maps and a handful of new species (including the Sage Sparrow split and recent vagrants like Rufous-necked Wood-Rail).
A spread of buntings from the 2nd edition, with new features noted.
Some of the same birds from the 1st edition.
Two of the main features of Complete Birds are supplementary large, detailed maps for some species or groups of species and sidebars that present additional identification information. These are still present in this second edition, with some changes. Eight of the large maps present in the first edition are no longer included. However, that is less of a loss than it appears, because the extra detail those large maps provided – for the most part, migration routes – are now included on the standard range maps.
As for the sidebars, five of them have not been carried over. However, most of their information is now contained in the species accounts or displayed graphically by the new range maps. But in at least one case – the comparison of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hutton’s Vireo – the information that had been present in the sidebar is no longer included in the guide. On the plus side, there are two new sidebars: Identification of White Egrets and Parts of a Gull.
The only entirely new features are the additions of the banding and ABA abundance codes to the header of each species account, which is a nice touch.
National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, 2nd Edition most definitely improves on the previous edition. However, I don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade if you have the first edition AND the sixth edition of the NatGeo field guide. But if that’s not the case, then I would recommend it. And if you don’t have any guides from National Geographic, I would highly recommend this new edition of Complete Birds of North America.
If that got a little confusing, here’s a flow chart that may help.