Kris Buchler, who was teaching a beginner bird-watching class for Coeur d’Alene Audubon this spring, was tentative when a novice asked her, “What’s the best field guide to birds?”
“Everybody has their favorite,” the expert birder said, noting that birder watchers come up with lots of nits to pick.
For example, some birders say the plumage colors are a little pale in the Sibley Guide to Birds while the hues are too bright in the Peterson field guide series.
Here are just a few of Buchler’s personal observations:
• The Sibley Guide to Birds is the best all-around book. It’s too big for carrying in the field, but it should at least be in your car. It shows birds in flight both above and below for all species.
• National Geographic guides have very good paintings, but also are fairly heavy. They’re pretty good at showing immature birds; some guidebooks don’t.
• All the Birds of North America, by the American Bird Conservancy, has excellent paintings and drawings bound into a slender size that slips into a pocket. One of the few books that shows a lot of the exotics that may show up in areas. Page at beginning of groups such as flycatchers details bill shape and color from underneath and other specific identification tips. Downside: birds aren’t listed in a species order familiar to most birders.
• Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America is sized nicely for the field. Uses digitalize photos instead of paintings. Worth checking out.
• Stokes guidebooks also use photos, a downside to some birders who prefer paintings. Really good behavioral information that can be helpful in identifying birds.
• Peterson guides are pretty good at showing specific distinctive marking that help in field identification, but the paintings are a bit stylized.
Buchler noted that night that her biggest complaint about the well-respected Peterson guidebooks is that the species range maps are in the back, not with the listings for specific birds.
However, just days later, Houghton Mifflin publishers released a fourth edition of the Peterson Field Guide to Birds with several new features, including range map thumbnails with each specific species.