Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America

A new kid on the block!! The Smithsonian Institute and Harper Collins just published the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America. What they did was combine the best of the existing field guides and then added some helpful innovations for the enthusiastic birder.

The introduction is a must read especially for those who are just beginning to appreciate birds and bird-watching. Author Ted Floyd, who is the editor of ABA’s (American Birding Association) Birding magazine, writes in painstaking details everything one needs to know to enjoy birding – from identifying bird species to the natural history of birds. He also talks about conservation and birding ethics.

The book then lists more than 750 species found all across North America. Each bird group is given an introduction outlining taxonomy, feeding, migration, habitats, behaviors and conservation status. I found the 2,000 high quality photographs taken by the who’s who in avian photography illustrating each species covered, showing birds in their natural habitats to be very effective. I am an amateur bird photographer and whenever I’m stumped with the identification of a bird whose photograph I just took, I just look it up in this field guide and the answer is right there. Each photograph is labeled with the state and month the picture was taken – a very helpful information particularly when there are regional and breeding/non-breeding differences in the species’ plumage.

Color-coded range maps showing summer, migration, winter, year-round and rare (but regular) occurrences are also included in each bird species covered.

What I consider a big plus is the included DVD of birdsongs for 138 common species. A total of 587 vocalizations (call, song, etc.) is recorded for each of the 138 species. These are coded in high quality mp3. The corresponding bird image is included which makes it perfect for use on home computers or handheld mp3 players.

There is a handy Quick Index at the end of the book and the page numbers are conveniently located at the upper right hand corner – perfect when flipping through. Although slightly wider than the comparative field guides, it is still compact enough to be carried in the field. The covers are sturdy enough to withstand usage in different environments.

I have two other field guides but since I have gotten a copy of the Smithsonian, I found myself referring to it for my bird IDs more and more.

My only nit is that despite the abundance of photographs, there are still a few plumage variations that were not represented.

All in all the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a welcome addition to a birder’s library. For a novice birder, this is a must-have.

1 comment:

Elizabeth J. Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the helpful review. Your blog is a very welcoming place!

Field guide enthusiasts should also like my new book, Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson, out now from The Lyons Press.

Peterson played a central role in the expansion of birding not only in the US, but also Europe and East Africa. My book details these things, as well as demonstrating the breadth of his involvement and leadership in nature education and many of the most celebrated conservation causes of the 20th century. From his early 20s onward, Peterson was teaching about all aspects of nature, sometimes informally, sometimes formally, through his writings, lectures, books and work with various conservation organizations.

Also, the reader learns about Peterson the Man: what motivated him, personal and professional challenges he faced, and his personal impact on many of today's top birders and conservationists.

I ended up talking to well over 100 people from around the world to put together this portrait of a complex and driven man. Birders, natural history buffs, and conservationists alike will enjoy the book.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at