A Field Guide to the Photographic Field Guides of North America

Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds - Eastern Region
Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern AND Western* National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds – Eastern Region**
Author Ted Floyd Edward S. Brinkley Kenn Kaufman Donald and Lillian Stokes John Bull and John Farrand, Jr.
Publish date May, 2008 May, 2007 September, 2000*** 1996 September, 1994
Price (MSRP) $24.95 $19.95 $18.95 $17.99 $19.95
Size (width x height x thickness) 6″ x 8″ x 1 1/4″ 4 3/4″ x 7 3/4″ x 1 3/8″ 4 3/4″ x 7 3/4″ x 3/4″ 5″ x 8 1/8″ x 7/8″; 5″ x 8 3/8″ x 1″ 4″ x 7 1/2″ x 1 1/4″
Weight 2 lb. (with disc and booklet removed) 1 lb., 13 oz 1 lb., 1 oz 1 lb., 5 oz; 1 lb., 8 oz 1 lb., 4 oz
# pages 522 530 384 496; 544 800

# species 750+ ~760 749 unspecified, but I would guess 450; 500 508
Species per page – min/max/avg 1 / 3 / <2 1 / 3 / <2 2 / 8 / >4 1 / 2 / ~1 2 / 3 / ~2.5
Photos per species – min/max/avg 1/ 10 / 2-3 1 / 10 / ~3 1 / 8 / ~2.7 1 / 4 / ~2 1 / 2 / 1.27
Plate layout Pics and text on same page; species arranged both vertically and horizontally Pics and text on same page; species arranged horizontally Birds shown on the right-hand page, with species accounts on facing page Pics and text on same page Photographs together in their own section, accounts in back half
Captions Captions in the margins with sex/age; identification notes; place and time taken Captions within the image with sex/age and identification notes Pointers to important field marks, a la Peterson Captions under each image with sex/age Captions under each image with sex/age, length, page # for species account
Species order “closely” follows AOU taxonomic order AOU taxonomic order, with some modifications to group similar birds AOU taxonomic order (outdated now), with modifications to group similar birds AOU taxonomic order (outdated now) Shape, then by color or pattern
Topography diagrams Duck, songbird, raptor perched, raptor in flight above and below, gull, shorebird in flight With both photos and line drawing based on that photo – 2 different perched songbirds, closeup of sparrow’s head, gull in flight both above and below Songbird, close-up of head, raptor in flight Songbird, generic underwing One (very poor) perched songbird
Range maps Color; breeding, winter, resident, migration, and rare Color; breeding, winter, resident, migration, and rare Color; breeding, winter, resident, migration; with lighter shades for all 3 indicating rare Color; breeding, winter, resident Black-and-white; breeding, winter, resident
Family intros Usually a full-page 1/2 – 2 pages short paragraph – 2 pages Some of the more difficult to ID families get a 2-page intro short to mid-sized paragraph
Species accounts
  • Length, wingspan, and weight
  • Variation (molt, age, sex, seasonal, and other)
  • Habitat and ecology
  • Voice
  • Length and wingspan in inches and centimeters
  • Habitat and habits
  • Voice
  • Habitat and habits
  • Identification notes
  • Voice
  • Identification notes
  • Feeding
  • Nesting
  • Other behavior
  • Habitat
  • Voice
  • Conservation
  • Description
  • Voice
  • Habitat
  • Nesting
  • Range
  • Various notes

Notes:
* Where the eastern and western editions differ, a semi-colon separates the values, and the eastern data is given first.
** There is also one for the Western region, but I do not have the revised edition so I am not including it here. Originally published in 1977, these guides were revised in 1994. They have been reprinted many times since then with different covers, but as far as I know, the content has not changed.
*** I’ve got the original version with the Scarlet Tanager on the cover. It has since been republished with the cover seen here. I’m not aware of any updates to the content, but there are now 8 more pages. The info here is from the version that I have.

Recommendation

The choice of which field guide to use is highly personal. As long as the guide meets certain requirements, foremost among which is that it actually helps you identify birds, there are no “wrong” choices. Thus, what I say here is only my personal opinion.

Well, there is one wrong choice. Don’t bother with the Audubon field guide. This guide will always have a place on my shelf because it was my first field guide as a kid. But that’s the only reason. The organization just does not work. And while some of the pictures are fantastic, there are not enough of them for most species. Need help with a raptor you saw in flight? This guide won’t help – most raptors are only shown perched.

The Stokes include more kinds of information than the other guides, and the layout is simple and uncluttered. Thus, it is most appropriate for kids or those who may want to look up a bird now and then. It does not include enough illustrations of most species for use as a primary field guide. And, like the Audubon guides, it is too out-of-date in terms of taxonomy.

Of all of these, the Kaufman is probably the best choice for use as a first field guide. It is simple, and for the most part has enough pictures of each species.

The NWF and Smithsonian guides are extremely similar. The species included, number of photos per species, range maps, and layout are almost identical. The Smithsonian is slightly wider, taller, and heavier, but is correspondingly thinner. A bonus DVD of bird songs is also included with the Smithsonian (full review of the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America). They are both good, and I would recommend either.

The Kaufman, NWF, and Smithsonian are all worthy field guides. Check out those three to see which would be the best for you. Personally, if I could keep just one it would be the Smithsonian. It and the NWF book are both great, but the DVD puts it over the edge for me.

Posted by Grant McCreary on June 9th, 2008.

Category: Features

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