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USA Field Guide

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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 14:43   #1
tramper
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USA Field Guide

Can anyone recommend a good field guide to North American birds. I live in the UK and don't have much experience of birds of the USA but I am going to live in the USA for about 5 months and would like to get a field guide.

I will be living in Eastern USA but will be spending a month on the west coast.

Thanks for any help.
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 15:56   #2
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The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 4th Ed. (ISBN 0-7922-6877-6) is my favorite. It covers all of North America and is reasonably sized.

The guides by Sibley are very nice, but the complete guide is too large for field use. There are seperate Western and Eastern editions that are reasonably sized, but then you would need to buy two books.

Many also like the Peterson guidebooks, but again they are split into Western and Eastern editions.



Quote:
Originally Posted by tramper
Can anyone recommend a good field guide to North American birds. I live in the UK and don't have much experience of birds of the USA but I am going to live in the USA for about 5 months and would like to get a field guide.

I will be living in Eastern USA but will be spending a month on the west coast.

Thanks for any help.
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 16:27   #3
Beverlybaynes
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I'll second the nomination of the National Geographic. I've used mine for 6-7 years, toting it all over creation, in all kinds of conditions, and making notes in it. And it's still in one piece -- which says something for the quality of the book's construction. And for your purposes, having all the birds in one book sure beats buying two (although I'm guilty of buying the Sibley western when I went to Arizona in the spring).

Sibley is a terrific guide, but, I think, best used as a reference, because of its size and weight.

You just won't go wrong with the NG, IMHO.
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 17:06   #4
Katy Penland
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But don't forget that the "big Sibley" was broken into Eastern and Western North America editions, making the book half its original size and weight and roughly the same size as the Peterson and Natl Geo guides. It also depends on what kind of birding you do. I.e., do you tend to hike for miles where carrying weight is a big consideration?

In any event, the Eastern and Western editions are also more up-to-date with their range maps and taxonomy, so buying both might be a better solution than getting the "big" book.
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 17:29   #5
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You'll be able to compare Nat. Geo. and Sibley guides at rspb Lochwinnoch, Tramper.Give them a phone to make sure both titles are on the shelf.
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Old Tuesday 6th December 2005, 19:33   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tramper
Can anyone recommend a good field guide to North American birds. I live in the UK and don't have much experience of birds of the USA but I am going to live in the USA for about 5 months and would like to get a field guide.

I will be living in Eastern USA but will be spending a month on the west coast.

Thanks for any help.
I agree with most of whats been said about Nat. Geo. and Sibley's but don't forget about Kenn Kaufman's field guide to the birds of North American, different approach (enhanced digital photos, don't knock 'em until you try 'em). After using Nat. Geo. in various editions for years, I switched to Kaufman's about a year ago because it is good, plus it's very small and fits in a jeans pocket easily. The small Sibley's have very small print and are hard to read for me without glasses, the NG is just a shade to big to be comfortable in a pocket and the big Sibley's, while great is a reference book.

Jaeger near Chicago
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2005, 12:09   #7
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I've used all the field guides listed here plus the American Bird Conservancy's All the Birds of North America and my favorite is still the National Geographic. Like the Peterson and Kaufmann, the bird drawings are on the right hand page and the text is on the left. This makes it easier for me to flip through as opposed to having to scan two pages at once.

I'm still using the Third Edition of the Natl. Geo. I'm assuming the layout is still the same for the Fourth?!?!
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2005, 18:07   #8
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Tramper,
Probably you have already made your purchase, but in the interest of other readers I have a few comments.
The new East & West editions of Sibley have significant revisions in the range maps, lots of additional text & a better arrangment of the information. They are much improved from the original complete North America edition. This is so true, I would never recommend anyone to buy the old "complete" edition. It is misleading to think you are getting the same book as the East and West editions.
The 4th Ed. of National Geographic is not much different from the 3rd. There are a few revised illustrations and a few small revisions in text and range maps.
I have used all of these editions extensively, mostly in Eastern N.A. Sibley is very good because he presents the birds in flight from top and bottom views. His illustrations are not life like or aesthetically appealing (to me), but they communicate the information precisely & accurately. Like you are looking at stuffed birds in a museum.
National Geographic has many artists contributing in different styles. Aesthetically, it is a much more interesting and varied book. It appeals for being small and yet complete for "North America" (defined without Mexico) with many, many vagrants also. But, it does not show you the undertails of every species of North American Wood Warbler, which Sibley does. Many times I have found the NG does not show a certain part of the bird I want to see. It does not show every bird in flight, for example.
Also, the text of NG is not as concise and useful as that of the East & West editions of Sibley. (The first Sibley almost lacks text entirely! My advice: Don't buy it.) The NG wastes alot of text on physical descriptions of the birds that are sometimes unclear. Sibley uses the illustrations and pointers attached to brief text to convey the physical description. This is very helpful. Sibley's first edition was criticized for its lack of discussion about habitat and behaviour of the birds. There was often only a single phrase per species. The new east/west editions add alot of discussion about habitat and behaviour, increasingly seen as useful tools in identification by many birders.

East/West Sibley is what I use most now, after years with NG. The drawback that bothers me occasionally is when I want to review an entire family, they are not all in the same book. East covers 650 species, West: 703. So, if the bird is known to be vagrant at all in the other area, it is included. Sibley provides small illustrations of the hard to distinguish females or juveniles in the beginning of each family heading, in addition to full illustrations under the species. This is very helpful for getting a feel for the shape differences beyond plumage. By this Sibley has encouraged birders to think more in terms of shape rather than plumage and to be familiar with the "difficult" distinctions between female plumages. NG does not have this feature. Particularly aggravating in NG is the ducks in flight plate, which should have been revised in the 4th ed. I dont think it accurately shows the flight shapes of the birds. Just my opinion.

These are probably the best North American field guides. But, neither approaches the excellence of the BIRDS OF EUROPE, by Svensson, Mullarney, et al. We are still waiting for someone to make such a guide for North America. I used this book in Europe for a 6 month stay and was amazed by how good it is. I have never been satisfied with the American guides since.

** A note about BIRDS OF EUROPE, especially for fellow Americans. Brits call this book the "Collins guide." Collins publishes their edition in UK and has so titled it. But in the USA it is available only in the Princeton Field Guides series and is NOT the same as the other "Collins" guides you find advertised in the American Birding Association catalog, etc, such as Collins Birds of Britain & Ireland, & others. If you know other languages, you will not find the French or German editions called Collins either. Brits will not stop calling it "the Collins," so beware confusion. I always call it the Svensson & Mullarney. French call it "Le Svensson." Their edition is titled "Le Guide Ornitho."
Marc
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2005, 19:42   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jedku
Tramper,
Probably you have already made your purchase, but in the interest of other readers I have a few comments.
The new East & West editions of Sibley have significant revisions in the range maps, lots of additional text & a better arrangment of the information. They are much improved from the original complete North America edition. This is so true, I would never recommend anyone to buy the old "complete" edition. It is misleading to think you are getting the same book as the East and West editions.
The 4th Ed. of National Geographic is not much different from the 3rd. There are a few revised illustrations and a few small revisions in text and range maps.
I have used all of these editions extensively, mostly in Eastern N.A. Sibley is very good because he presents the birds in flight from top and bottom views. His illustrations are not life like or aesthetically appealing (to me), but they communicate the information precisely & accurately. Like you are looking at stuffed birds in a museum.
National Geographic has many artists contributing in different styles. Aesthetically, it is a much more interesting and varied book. It appeals for being small and yet complete for "North America" (defined without Mexico) with many, many vagrants also. But, it does not show you the undertails of every species of North American Wood Warbler, which Sibley does. Many times I have found the NG does not show a certain part of the bird I want to see. It does not show every bird in flight, for example.
Also, the text of NG is not as concise and useful as that of the East & West editions of Sibley. (The first Sibley almost lacks text entirely! My advice: Don't buy it.) The NG wastes alot of text on physical descriptions of the birds that are sometimes unclear. Sibley uses the illustrations and pointers attached to brief text to convey the physical description. This is very helpful. Sibley's first edition was criticized for its lack of discussion about habitat and behaviour of the birds. There was often only a single phrase per species. The new east/west editions add alot of discussion about habitat and behaviour, increasingly seen as useful tools in identification by many birders.

East/West Sibley is what I use most now, after years with NG. The drawback that bothers me occasionally is when I want to review an entire family, they are not all in the same book. East covers 650 species, West: 703. So, if the bird is known to be vagrant at all in the other area, it is included. Sibley provides small illustrations of the hard to distinguish females or juveniles in the beginning of each family heading, in addition to full illustrations under the species. This is very helpful for getting a feel for the shape differences beyond plumage. By this Sibley has encouraged birders to think more in terms of shape rather than plumage and to be familiar with the "difficult" distinctions between female plumages. NG does not have this feature. Particularly aggravating in NG is the ducks in flight plate, which should have been revised in the 4th ed. I dont think it accurately shows the flight shapes of the birds. Just my opinion.

These are probably the best North American field guides. But, neither approaches the excellence of the BIRDS OF EUROPE, by Svensson, Mullarney, et al. We are still waiting for someone to make such a guide for North America. I used this book in Europe for a 6 month stay and was amazed by how good it is. I have never been satisfied with the American guides since.

** A note about BIRDS OF EUROPE, especially for fellow Americans. Brits call this book the "Collins guide." Collins publishes their edition in UK and has so titled it. But in the USA it is available only in the Princeton Field Guides series and is NOT the same as the other "Collins" guides you find advertised in the American Birding Association catalog, etc, such as Collins Birds of Britain & Ireland, & others. If you know other languages, you will not find the French or German editions called Collins either. Brits will not stop calling it "the Collins," so beware confusion. I always call it the Svensson & Mullarney. French call it "Le Svensson." Their edition is titled "Le Guide Ornitho."
Marc
Excellent summary, including your comment about the unfortunate "Collins" name. A similar problem exists in German with many field guides published by Kosmos. But since there are several (among them the one by Svensson et al, and the one by Jonsson) there has never been such a strong urge to call a particular book the "Kosmos".
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Old Wednesday 7th December 2005, 19:45   #10
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with only one brand to choose, I would buy Sibley East and West
they are good size to carry around

Kaufman is pretty good for all around travel, one small book to pack, I take it on all non birding out of town trips

when I posted this I had Sibleys East and full books. I had a 20% off coupon for a store, so now I have West also. For when I actually get West of the Rockies, or even just the Rockies.
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