For his birthday, my son received a bird book from his Grandfather. It is not the only bird book in the house, but in many ways, it is the most useful.
Grandpa gave him the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region – Revised Edition (Knopf). It does not have the beautiful illustrations of The Sibley Guide to Birds (Knopf); it uses photographs instead. The photographs do not show the colours and markings as clearly as the illustrations. Nonetheless, the birds which frequent our feeders are not as fastidious in their toilet as those painted by Mr Sibley; so, making an identification is, on occasion, easier from the candid shot than from the formal portrait.
The Field Guide gives a written description of the bird followed by notes on its voice, habitat, nesting and range. To get the same information, I have to use both The Sibley Guide and An Audubon Handbook: Eastern Birds (McGraw Hill). Together, they give me colour illustrations and photographs, more detailed descriptions of appearance and voice, and coloured graphics and written notes on range; plus, the Handbook gives very helpful lists of birds similar to the one under consideration. Alas, they give little information on habitat and nesting.
So, when at home, The Sibley Guide is the first resource to which I turn and then I turn to the Handbook for confirmation if in doubt, or if I wish more information. However, the boy, using his new book, has generally gotten there before me, and with most of the facts. Unless, that is, we have all the books out as we try to put a name to our guest at the feeders.
When out and about, there is no doubt that the Field Guide will be with us in the car or in the backpack. For its size, method of use, and amount of information, it cannot be beaten by any book on our shelves. Finding the bird in the carefully organised photographs which make up the first half of the book, then using the reference number to look up the relevant facts in the latter half, is quite easily done. After we get home, we can use the other books to confirm our find before marking it in our Birder’s Journal.
Where the Field Guide really excels is in its flyleaf. That is where it says, ‘From Grandpa. May you enjoy birdwatching as much as I have!’