Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America – Initial Review

This is an initial overview of the new The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. A more detailed review is forthcoming, but I wanted to go ahead and post some thoughts before the book is widely available.

Size comparison between the Sibley and Stokes guides

This thing is thick and hefty.

The first thing you’ll notice about this book (well, after the gorgeous bird on the cover) is the size. Not so much the trim size, which is larger than the National Geographic guide but smaller than the big Sibley and Peterson, but the thickness and heft. But 800+ pages don’t seem that bad when you realize that this guide uses over 3,400 photographs to cover 854 species.

If you do the math on the numbers above, you find that there should be an average of four photos per species. That seems about right. Most birds have a complete page devoted to them, with three to six photographs at the top, accompanied by text and range map at the bottom of the page. Some species get “only” half a page, while members of more variable groups, like hawks and gulls, usually have two pages. The layout of the guide, in which the photos are placed flush with the edges of the page, reduces white space and thus allows the pictures to be reproduced in a larger size than otherwise possible.

Sample warblers from Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Most birds get an entire page all to themselves.

Laughing Gull from Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Though some get even more, especially the extremely variable hawks and gulls.

The text starts by focusing on the bird’s shape, and then proceeds to describe the plumages, broken down by age and gender. Notes on habitat and voice are given. Finally, it gives information on subspecies: how many subspecies are found in North America, their names, ranges, and how to differentiate them. The rather small range maps indicate the bird’s permanent, breeding, winter, and migratory ranges. They also use dotted lines to show where it rarely occurs.

Sample thrushes from Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Many rare and range-restricted birds are included, and get full accounts just like the more common ones.

My initial impression of the Stokes guide is very favorable. And while I think there are some improvements that could be made, this is definitely a field guide worth having. It will be impractical to use in the field due to the size and weight. But the features directly contributing to that – the number of species and generous amount of space devoted to each one – make it an ideal reference for your car or home.

Continue on to the Full Review.

Posted by Grant McCreary on October 8th, 2010.

Category: Quick Picks

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