Features

There are many kinds of bird books, from field guides to big year narratives, but at some point you’d think that every possible book about birds will have been written. I don’t know when, or if, that will happen, but one thing is certain: it wasn’t this year. 2013 saw the publication of some books that have brought something new to a familiar category, and others the likes of which have never been seen before.

Here are the four bird books of 2013 that I consider the best.

 

  • The Warbler GuideThe Warbler Guide
    by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

    Let me get this out of the way – The Warbler Guide is the best identification guide available to these brilliant birds. Each of North America’s warblers is shown in a photo from just about every possible angle, including the all-important butt shot (the undertail and coverts). Vocalizations are given as much attention as the visual aspects, with annotated sonograms included for every type of song and call. An audio companion pack is available from Cornell ($5.99) with every single sound included in the book. If you want to learn warbler vocalizations, this is the best way to do it. What really makes this book so great is that it has something for birders of all skill levels, whether you’re just starting to learn warblers or want to not just identify, but age and sex, every one you see.
    My full review of The Warbler Guide

  • Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in FlightPeterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight
    by Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox

    This new Peterson Reference Guide will let you in on the secrets of seawatching. Covering 111 species from 15 families, it includes most of the birds that you can see migrating along major bodies of water (not just the ocean) in the eastern half of the continent. Note, however, that it would also be of use to anyone in the rest of North America or even Western Europe. This identification guide is extremely well done, but its real beauty is that it opens up an entirely new aspect of birding. It makes seawatching accessible to all birders, just like Hawks in Flight did for hawkwatching.
    My full review of Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight

  • Birds and PeopleBirds and People
    by Mark Cocker

    There have been books before that investigate the cultural significance of birds, but nothing like Birds and People. This book looks at each bird family and details our interaction with them and their influence on us. These accounts are utterly fascinating, dealing with everything from bird-inspired art to birds as food to conservation. You’ll learn about birds, of course, but also discover things about ourselves and why birds are so important to us. And as a nice bonus, this book is also packed with awesome photographs.
    My full review of Birds and People

 

Any of these could be (or already have been) designated the best bird book of the year. But when it came time for me to choose, the choice was clear. There was one book this year that I found particularly delightful…

 

 

The Unfeathered Bird

The Unfeathered Bird

by Katrina van Grouw

Unique. That is the best word to describe The Unfeathered Bird. This large, coffee table style book is filled with exquisite drawings of birds. But birds without feathers! Most are of just the skeleton, while others illustrate the bird with its skin or musculature visible. And yet they still look alive, as they are posed engaging in natural behavior (i.e. loons swimming as if underwater). Rather than macabre, I find the art beautiful and instructive. And the accompanying text may be even better, as it explains how the bird’s appearance and behavior are determined by what you see in the drawings. This book is fun to both look at and read, and will deepen your appreciation for these amazing creatures.
My full review of The Unfeathered Bird

 

Yes, 2013 was a good year for bird books, but next year is shaping up to be even better (two words: new Sibley).

Is there a group of birds with more field guide representation than raptors? It’s not hard to understand why, just think of the words commonly used to describe them: Majestic; fierce; enthralling. Confusing. Is there anything more frustrating than that speck in the sky that just won’t come close enough to identify? Well, how about the accipiter or juvenile buteo that just sits there for you, but you still can’t tell what the heck it is? So it’s definitely worthwhile to have a specialized guide for birds of prey. But such guides come in almost as many variations as Red-tailed Hawks. Which one (or ones) should you get?

In this comparison, I’ll briefly go over each of the major field guides to North American raptors, and then end with some recommendations. (Unless otherwise mentioned, each of these include the 34 raptors that routinely breed in the United States and Canada.) Let’s start with the newest…

 

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan
Princeton University Press; 2013
$29.95

Peregrine Falcon from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

Highlights

  • Similar format as The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
  • 32 double-paged “mystery photos”, where you can practice identifying and/or ageing raptors
  • Includes, by far, the most photos of each species, on average
  • Relatively extensive species accounts

Richard Crossley takes the unique format introduced in his Eastern Birds guide and expands upon it. Every bird (except Aplomado Falcon) gets at least two pages devoted exclusively to it (Red-tailed gets ten!), plus inclusion in one or more of the mystery photos. These plates, where numbered images of different species are grouped together, are my favorite feature. With the answers in the back, they afford great practice at identification and provide the easiest way to compare species against each other. The Crossley raptor guide’s insane number of photos and innovative design make it fun to study raptors.

 

Hawks in Flight: Second Edition

Hawks in Flight: Second Edition

by Pete Dunne, Clay Sutton, and David Sibley
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012
$26.00

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks in Flight: Second Edition

Highlights

  • Wonderful text from Pete Dunne
  • Drawings by David Sibley
  • Photographs with some great captions

This guide, first published in 1988, is a classic. Now in its second edition, complete with color photos and added species, it’s even better. The photos are nice, and you can learn a great deal about hawk ID just by reading their captions. But it’s the text and drawings that set this book apart. Sibley’s drawings are black-and-white, but that’s not a bad thing – it helps draw attention to pattern and shape, the most important aspects for identifying hawks in flight. And the text…well, let’s just say that it’s not only the most helpful but is actually fun to read!

Full review of Hawks in Flight: Second Edition

 

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight

by Jerry Liguori
Princeton University Press; 2005
$19.95

Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors

Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors

by Jerry Liguori
Princeton University Press; 2011
$19.95

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks from Every Angle

Hawks from Every Angle

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks at a Distance

Hawks at a Distance

Highlights

  • The most extensive collection of in-flight hawk photos
  • Wonderful composite plates of both single and multiple species
  • Only includes birds most likely to be seen migrating (so no Gray Hawk, Snail Kite, etc)

I’m treating these together because they seem like one book that was published in two parts. Both deal exclusively with in-flight raptors that are likely to be encountered at hawkwatches. Angle uses the larger, more close-up views that you’re used to. But Distance features birds that are smaller and more distant. Combined, they contain more photos of each bird than even Crossley. Both include some really helpful composite plates. The text is fairly brief and to the point. Their unique approach and features make them invaluable to hawkwatchers.

Full reviews of Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance

 

Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guide)

Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guide)

by William S. Clark and Brian K. Wheeler
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2001
$22.00

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guide)

Highlights

  • Illustrated with both paintings and photographs
  • Includes 12 vagrants not found in most other guides (i.e. Roadside Hawk and White-tailed Eagle)
  • Relatively extensive species accounts

The paintings are the primary illustrations, depicting just about any variation and pose you could want. And since this is part of the venerable Peterson field guide series, there are arrows pointing out what to look for. I’m not a big fan of the illustrations, though; they just look off to me. The photos are a nice supplement, but they are relatively few and small. The text includes a good bit of information, mostly related to identification.

 

A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark
Princeton University Press; 2003
$29.95

Peregrine Falcon from A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

Highlights

  • Photos of birds both perched and in-flight (though fewer than most other guides)
  • Side-by-side comparisons of similar species
  • Includes 9 vagrants

This was intended to be a supplement to the authors’ Peterson guide, but in hindsight seems more like the forerunner to Wheeler’s later guides (see below). Unlike those, this one is more portable and field-usable. But it also includes far fewer photos (and of lesser quality) and briefer text. It’s still a decent guide, but is definitely showing its age.

 

Raptors of Eastern North America: The Wheeler Guides Raptors of Western North America: The Wheeler Guides

The Wheeler Guides:
Raptors of Eastern North America
Raptors of Western North America

by Brian K. Wheeler
Princeton University Press; 2003
$$$$ – out of print

Peregrine Falcon from The Wheeler Guides

Highlights

  • Very extensive species accounts
  • Large selection of nice photos, including perched and in-flight
  • Largest, most detailed range maps that I’ve ever seen
  • Excellent reference

Despite being “just” a decade old and published in both hardcover and paperback, the Wheeler Guides are now out of print and command big bucks on the secondary market ($100+ each!). So I hesitate to include them here, but they’re just too good to leave out! These are the best raptor references that you will find. The text is exhaustive (and exhausting, honestly), the range maps incredible, and the photographs plentiful. You know I love my bird books, but it says a lot that I still have my Wheeler Guides despite the price I could get selling them.

Full review of The Wheeler Guides

 

Recommendation

This may sound surprising (or like a cop-out), but each – well, most – of these guides have a place in your library depending on your needs. In my opinion, the best in general are Crossley and Hawks in Flight. I would recommend them to any birder, largely because I think they’re the easiest to study and learn the basics of raptor ID. If you’re looking for a guide to North American raptors, start with these.

If those are the best guides to study beforehand, the Wheeler Guides are where you would turn if you have a question or want to work out a difficult ID. If you can find your region’s volume for a reasonable price, get it.

Of all these guides, Jerry Liguori’s Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance are the ones most targeted toward those who consider themselves hawkwatchers. If you spend much time at all around hawkwatches, you will want these two books. Other birders can certainly use them too, of course, but they aren’t as essential as Crossley and Hawks in Flight.

That leaves the Peterson and photographic guides by Clark and Wheeler. While they can still be helpful for raptor identification, they are older and have now been surpassed by the others listed here. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how much raptor photography has improved in such a relatively short time.

 

The Raptor Blog TourThis post is part of the Raptor Blog Tour coinciding with the release of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Be sure to check out all the other posts celebrating these wonderful birds.

Disclosure: The books included here were complementary review copies provided by the publishers, with the exception of Hawks from Every Angle, Peterson, and the Wheeler Guides.

I’ve never done a Book of the Year post. If I were to be honest, it’s usually been my fault for procrastinating. But instead, I choose to blame the Handbook of the Birds of the World. Until this past year a new volume in this landmark series has been published annually since I started this website. And it’s really hard to argue against any of them being the best bird book of their respective year. So what would be the point?

But I have no such excuse this year. The only question is: Did another book step up to fill the void in 2012? The answer, undoubtedly, is “yes”. Without further ado, my choice for the 2012 Bird Book of the Year is…

 

 

Save the Last Dance: A Story of North American Grassland Grouse

Save the Last Dance: A Story of North American Grassland Grouse

by Noppadol Paothong and Joel Vance

As I mentioned in my review, this book is filled with amazing photographs. It’s an enjoyable read as well, letting you really get to know these birds. But all of this, even combined with the fact that this is one of my favorite groups of birds and I was excited for them to get their due, may not have been enough for me to bestow the title of Best Bird Book of the Year on this book. What cinched it is not the book in and of itself, but rather its purpose. The author’s stated goal for this book is that it would let people get to know our grassland grouse, and that once they know these birds they would want to protect them. These grouse certainly need all the friends they can get. And I honestly think this book can accomplish that. What’s more, over $2,000 has been donated to grouse conservation organizations from the sale of this book.

Save the Last Dance is not only gorgeous and informative, but also a force for conservation of the birds that it so lovingly portrays. To me, that earns it the title of 2012 Bird Book of the Year.

 

Honorable Mention

I hope you enjoyed Warbler Week. If you did (or even if you didn’t), please consider doing something to help out these birds. Here are a few suggestions.

Perhaps the main thing you can do is to purchase shade-grown coffee. Yes, it really is that important. Anything with the Smithsonian “Bird Friendly” seal you can know with certainty will by 100% shade-grown, organic coffee.

The American Bird Conservancy does some fantastic work on the behalf of warblers (and all the other birds as well). Please consider donating to them. What’s more, until June 20, all donations (I don’t think memberships count) will be matched by private donors, up to $100,000. This is a great way to make your donation go even further.

Finally, here are some organizations that are working to protect the Appalachian region, home to the Cerulean Warbler. This bird is declining very rapidly, largely due to habitat loss on its breeding grounds. (Thanks to Cynthia Ellis for the links.)

As I was kicking around ideas for today’s Warbler Week post, I thought about doing one on my favorite warbler book. But I realized there was a problem with that…I didn’t know what it was. Just as I can’t single out one particular warbler as my favorite, there are too many warbler books to pick just one.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of warbler books, I think of identification guides. There are several such guides, but at least among this group I do have a clear-cut favorite – A Field Guide to Warblers of North America, in the Peterson field guide series.

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol 15But the granddaddy of all warbler books, even though it doesn’t focus exclusively on them, just might be Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 15: Weavers to New World Warblers. It covers all of the world’s wood-warblers, and has some of the best photos you’ll ever see of them. If I needed to find out something about warblers, this is the first place I’d look. However, it’s not cheap. If you’d like to have a book that contains all the warblers (not just the North American representatives) without having to take out another mortgage, then there is Warblers of the Americas: An Identification Guide. It’s a little old now, and from what I understand the text may not be the best. But I think the art is great.

The Warblers of America, by Alexander Sprunt, Jr.Speaking of old books, there are also the classic warbler texts by Frank Chapman and Alexander Sprunt, Jr. Chapman’s The Warblers of North America, first published in 1907, features art by the legendary Louis Agassiz Fuertes. The text, however, seems dry and straight-to-the-point. In contrast, The Warblers of America (1957 and updated in 1979) by Sprunt is much more readable and also contains essays by other ornithologists (such as “The Resident Warblers of the West Indies”, by James Bond (whom the fictional spy was named after)). The color plates aren’t the best, but have a charm to them. Of the two, I have to say that I prefer Sprunt.

Chasing WarblersBut if I had to pick, Chasing Warblers, by Vera and Bob Thornton, just might be my favorite. In it, the authors describe their quest to photograph all of the nesting warblers of the U.S. and Canada. I read this book a long time ago, back when I had been birding for less than a year and had seen only a handful of these birds. It was thrilling to read about all these warblers that I also hoped to see some day. I’m curious to see if it holds up for me now that I’ve seen most of them. But there’s no doubt that the Thornton’s photos are still fantastic!

So what about you, what’s your favorite warbler book?

 


Warbler Week at The Birder's Library This post is a part of Warbler Week – a celebration of warblers in print and other media.

A Field Guide to Warblers of North AmericaI reviewed A Field Guide to Warblers of North America, in the Peterson guide series, a while ago. Actually, it was one of the initial reviews posted when I started this site. Well, I hesitate to call it a “review” – it was just a few short paragraphs with no images. But I’ve remedied that now.

If you don’t already have this guide (and if you’re a birder in North America, you should), check out the new and improved review of A Field Guide to Warblers of North America.

 


Warbler Week at The Birder's Library This post is a part of Warbler Week – a celebration of warblers in print and other media.

No, I’m not referring to some creation by ILM similar to some of the “birds” in The Big Year movie. Rather, this is about warblers in digital media. These birds are featured in all kinds of books, but are sadly underrepresented in the digital realm. In fact, I’m only aware of two items: a set of DVDs and an iPhone app.

Watching Warblers Watching Warblers West Watching Warblers
Watching Warblers West

These two DVDs from Birdfilms almost single-handedly make up for the lack of warblers in digital media with their exceptional quality. Together, these two films feature all the breeding warblers of the United States and Canada. The video footage is simply amazing and looks spectacular on these discs. But not only are these a feast for the eyes, you’ll also learn a good bit about the birds as well.

If you like warblers, you’ll love these DVDs. For more details, here is my full review of Watching Warblers and Watching Warblers WEST.

 

birdJam HeadsUp Warblers birdJam HeadsUp Warblers

HeadsUp Warblers is an app for the Apple family of mobile devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) dedicated to North American warblers. It includes some beautiful photos (although not enough to cover the entire spectrum of warbler plumages), but really shines in the audio department, as would be expected from birdJam. Each species has multiple sound clips and a nice feature makes it easy to compare birds by song type.

However, as nice as some of the features are, I’m not sure it provides enough value to recommend it in addition to a general field guide app. Full review of birdJam HeadsUp Warblers.

 

If you know of any other “digital warblers”, I’d love to hear about them.


Warbler Week at The Birder's Library This post is a part of Warbler Week – a celebration of warblers in print and other media.

Warbler Week at The Birder's Library

I love warblers. If you’re a birder I could stop right there, for the reasons why are obvious to you and no further explanation is needed. But if you have no idea what I’m talking about, the warblers are a family of small, insectivorous songbirds found in the Americas (sometimes called New World warblers or wood-warblers to differentiate them from the unrelated warblers of the Old World). Very few warblers will visit bird feeders, and most of them remain hidden in the upper reaches of trees or within thick vegetation. This means that, unless you’re actively looking for them, you are unlikely to see one. And that’s a shame, because many of them are absolute stunners! For my money, warblers – as a group – are the most attractive birds in North America.

But flashy good looks aren’t nearly the only reason to love warblers. This is an extremely interesting and diverse group of birds. One is among North America’s rarest birds and many others are in trouble. Most undertake amazing migrations every year. Many are hard to find, and can be difficult to identify once you do (which only serves to increase birders’ desire for them).

Overall, this is just a great group of birds; one worth celebrating. And since it is currently the peak of warbler migration throughout much of North America, I thought now would be a good time to do it. This week, The Birder’s Library will present some warbler-related reviews and posts. I hope you enjoy them almost as much as the birds themselves.

When I started birding, I carried a pencil and small notebook into the field to record sightings and make notes. It was a great way to learn, but a little cumbersome. A few years later, I met a birder who dictated sightings into a cassette-based voice recorder. How cool was that! Well, not the cassette part. So I bought a digital voice recorder with a remote mic. I could keep the device in my pocket, clip the mic to my binocular strap, and be able to record notes without ever lowering my binoculars. Plus, it could record bird sounds in a pinch. I love that thing and never imagined that I could bird without it.

And then comes the iPhone with all its wonderful apps. Smart phones and listing-keeping applications seem to be made for each other. It’s very convenient to keep your list on a device that you always have handy. Although I still use my trusty voice recorder from time to time, I’ve pretty much fully switch over. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I highly recommend using one of these apps. But which one? I’ll briefly describe and compare the iPhone listing apps that I’ve used. (Note, some of these are also available on Android phones, but I haven’t used those versions.)

First, all of these apps will obviously let you record which birds, and how many, you see. They will also email lists, export them in a format acceptable to eBird, and keep a rudimentary life list.

 

BirdsEye BirdLog North America

BirdsEye BirdLog North America

$9.99

Website

Worldwide version ($19.99)

Species list from the BirdsEye BirdLog iPhone app Species entry screen from the BirdsEye BirdLog iPhone app

The Good

  • Submits directly to eBird
  • Very fast to enter data in the field, unless you want to note male/female, etc (see below)
  • Records your location with GPS, or you can use eBird hotspots

The Bad

  • Not as fully featured as some other apps. For example, it uses GPS to note your location, but you cannot tag the location of individual birds.
  • Besides the count, you can only enter text notes for sightings. There isn’t any way to easily keep track of male/female, age, heard-only, etc. You can enter that as a note, but it takes longer and is more cumbersome than it should be
  • Expensive, especially for the worldwide version
  • Requires the use of eBird (but aren’t you doing that anyway?)

Birdlog is very easy to use (especially after figuring out some shortcuts). I thought the disappointing support for noting details about a sighting would be a deal-breaker for me. But although I hope it will eventually be added, it hasn’t been a very big deal. The speed with which you can enter sightings in the field and the convenience of direct uploads to eBird more than make up for the app’s shortcomings.

Birdlog does not include any life list features within the app. However, once you get your sightings into eBird, you can manage your lists there. This app also does not support any export options other than eBird. But again, you can do that from eBird. This is why I mentioned that Birdlog requires the use of eBird in the Bad list above. As I see it, this isn’t really a knock on Birdlog – the app was designed to be a mobile interface to submit sightings to eBird. So this is more of something to be aware of rather than a flaw in the app.

 

Birdwatcher's Diary

Birdwatcher’s Diary

$12.99

Website

Family list from the Birdwatcher's Diary iPhone app Species entry screen from the Birdwatcher's Diary iPhone app

The Good

  • The most powerful and fully featured list-keeping app
  • Can submit directly to eBird
  • Usable worldwide
  • Flexible and extensible – can import lists for anywhere and of anything, not just birds (i.e. mammals)
  • Keeps track of time and can record GPS location
  • Export lists as Google Earth KML
  • Uses iTunes for backup, or can upload to ftp sites
  • Life list functionality relatively robust

The Bad

  • Price
  • Complicated
  • Runs through battery quickly if GPS is being used
  • Cumbersome to separately count by gender, age, and plumage

Birdwatcher’s Diary is the most powerful listing app I’ve used. By downloading and installing lists, it can be used anywhere and for just about anything. The filtering capabilities seem especially well-suited to bird surveys and big days. The life list feature has options, unlike most other apps, so you can have it tell you what birds you’ve seen in a given location, time period, etc. You can count different “types” of the same bird individually (male/female, subspecies, etc), but it takes much more effort than in birdcountr.

However, this is not the most intuitive app. I had to actually read the manual to figure out how to use it. But the good news is that the manual is a fairly good and easy-to-follow tutorial that walks you through the myriad features.

 

Lifebirds Journal

Lifebirds Journal

$4.99

Website

Species list from the Lifebirds Journal iPhone app Species entry screen from the Lifebirds Journal iPhone app

The Good

  • Easy to use
  • Worldwide coverage
  • Can record GPS coordinates
  • Can keep track of age, sex, subspecies, and even add voice memos – just about everything
  • Species search is very quick and easy

The Bad

  • Takes more button pressing (and thus time) to record sightings
  • You have to manually enter subspecies and location information

I’ve found Lifebirds Journal to be very easy to use. You can start it up and begin logging sightings immediately without reading any documentation whatsoever (although I’d still recommend going through the help and tutorial available on their website). I like to keep track of “identifiable forms” within species. That is, I keep a separate count for male/female, immature, subspecies, etc. Lifebirds can do that for you.

This app offers a lot of options, but there is a big problem: entering a sighting requires way too much button tapping. To record the most simple sighting – a single bird, without GPS coordinates – requires five taps. And if you’re recording multiple birds, especially of different ages or sex, it can easily require twice as many taps. I find that to be too much time and effort in the field.

 

My Bird Observations

My Bird Observations

$2.99

Website

Family list from the My Bird Observations iPhone app Species entry screen from the My Bird Observations iPhone app

The Good

  • Usable worldwide, with preloaded lists for states and countries
  • Simple, fairly quick data entry
  • Price
  • Exports to Birdstack, and uploads to box.net for backup

The Bad

  • No easy way to separately count by gender, age, and plumage
  • Does not use GPS to record location
  • Lack of smart scrolling bar makes it more inconvenient to scroll through a long list of families or species

Of these listing apps, My Bird Observations is the most basic. It will automatically note the start time for each trip, but if you want to record other details (duration, county, etc) you must enter them manually. It does not use GPS. But it is easy, quick, and intuitive to use. The only way to keep track of different types (male/female, etc) is to manually type notes for the species.

 

Recommendation

First, check out each of these apps’ website. Many of them offer demos and walk-throughs that, while not as good as hands-on experience, will still give you a feel for what the apps are like.

All of these apps will allow you to record the birds you see and create bird lists that can be uploaded to eBird. But ultimately, the one that is right for you depends on your needs. If you need a quick and easy way to count birds, without worrying about recording GPS or various “types”, then My Bird Observations or Lifebirds Journal should work fine. If you think you’ll take advantage of its advanced features, then Birdwatcher’s Diary may be the best choice. And if getting your sightings into eBird is your primary concern, then BirdLog is your app.

Update 8/4/2012: Birdwatcher’s Diary, as of the latest update, can now submit directly to eBird. As soon as I’m able to test it out, I’ll update this page again.

More Bird Apps

Disclosure: The apps reviewed here were complementary review copies provided by the developers.

2010 was a good year for bird field guides. The highlights include new editions of the most famous field guide in history, a great new field guide for North America, a real field guide to the world’s most avian-rich country, and what was arguably the most highly anticipated field guide update ever (at least since I’ve been birding). Here’s a brief look at the field guides from this past year.

It seemed like there were an unusually high number of new editions and updated field guides in 2010, most of which were published, at least in the U.S., by Princeton University Press.

  • Birds of EuropeThe Collins Bird Guide, or Birds of Europe as it’s known in North America, is probably the most highly regarded field guide in the world; and deservedly so. Every birder, regardless of location, should have a copy, if only to see how good a field guide can be. But the original edition (review), published a decade ago, was starting to show its age. This second edition makes some updates and additions, but is still the same amazing guide.
  • Birds of PeruThe new Birds of Peru is billed as a “Revised and Updated Edition” rather than a second edition. I don’t have the first edition to compare the two, but I think this is an accurate reflection. The binding has been changed from a jacketless hardcover to paperback, making it more portable. It also includes an additional 25 species, and some revised range maps. Anyone birding in Peru or the surrounding countries absolutely has to have it. Full Review
  • Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North AmericaIn 2008 the famous Peterson field guides, which had previously only been available as separate regional editions, were updated and combined into a single book (review). It should come as no surprise that they were again split into the sixth edition Eastern and Central North America and fourth edition Western field guides.
  • Birds of Australia: Eighth EditionAustralia was blessed with two updated field guides in 2010: the eighth edition of Simpson and Day’s Birds of Australia, and the second of The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. If you’d like to learn the relative merits of each of Australia’s field guides, there is an excellent comparison on Birdforum.
  • Birds of the Middle East: Second EditionThe second edition of Birds of the Middle East looks like it would be a very useful field guide for the region. I don’t have the first edition, so I can’t compare the two. But it sounds as if this guide has been completely redesigned and updated, much of it for the better. It now has a more traditional layout with birds on the right-hand page and text and range maps on the left.

But there was also a good selection of new field guides in 2010.

  • The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North AmericaEach of the last four years has brought us a new photographic field guide to the birds of North America. They’ve each had their merits, but The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America is my current favorite photo-based guide. It is an excellent reference that is worth having even if you already have a dozen other NA field guides. Here’s a look inside.
  • Field Guide to the Birds of ColombiaOf all the field guides published in 2010, Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia may be the most impactful. Columbia, which boasts more bird species than any other country on Earth, is once again becoming a safe place to bird. But until now, its only field guide, while good, is old and unwieldy. I’m still not sure what magic the authors used, but they managed to produce a guide to 1800+ birds that is both useful and very portable. Full Review
  • Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Illustrated Checklists)Birds of the West Indies is a very compact guide to Caribbean birds. But it doesn’t completely supplant its predecessor, a field guide with the same name by Herbert Raffaele. Having been able to use this guide in the field recently, I will be writing a review shortly.
  • The Birds of Panama: A Field GuideThe Birds of Panama, like the new Columbian guide, is a very welcome addition since it’s the first good, readily portable field guide to this popular birding destination. I haven’t seen it yet, but if it’s as good as the companion book to Costa Rica (by the same publisher and illustrator), it would be highly recommended to anyone birding in Panama.
  • Field Guide to the Birds of GhanaAccording to the very helpful site Avian Review, the Field Guide to the Birds of Ghana, as only the second field guide to west Africa, is a book that you’ll need if you’re planning on birding in western Africa.
  • Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American SpeciesBird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species isn’t a field guide in the same manner as these other books, but is rather a field guide to bird parts. Ever find a lone bird feather and wish you could figure out to which bird it belonged? This is your book.

If I’ve missed any, and inevitably I have, let me know and I’ll add them.