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How useful are dated bird books? (1 Viewer)

How useful are dated bird books?
How old does a book have to be to be 'out of date' in your opinion?

I'm new to bird watching and want to get myself a broad range of bird related books - evolution, migration, anatomy, physiology etc. anything and everything. I have an interest in science in general so I know how quickly things change so when I see a book that's 10+ years old it puts me off buying it and I don't know if its fair for me to do that in all situations (like migration patterns are pretty set and don't typically change too often?)
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
Anatomy is probably the topic with least change of those you have mentioned. Even though migration patterns are mostly stable, details change over time; but what have especially changed lately is understanding of what drives a bird to migrate at the time when it does, and how it navigates to where it is going.

Niels
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
How useful are dated bird books?
How old does a book have to be to be 'out of date' in your opinion?

I'm new to bird watching and want to get myself a broad range of bird related books - evolution, migration, anatomy, physiology etc. anything and everything. I have an interest in science in general so I know how quickly things change so when I see a book that's 10+ years old it puts me off buying it and I don't know if its fair for me to do that in all situations (like migration patterns are pretty set and don't typically change too often?)
This all depends on what there has been to replace it.

Look at Coates and Bishop's 'Birds of Wallacea', it was incredibly dated but until fairly recently, it was all there was, same for some parts of South America but that is slowly changing. Identification criteria are usually, fairly stable, the thing that changes most these days is taxonomy and many field guides are already out of date as they go to press.

Site guides can and do go out of date but how quickly, will depend on the country.
 

James Jobling

Well-known member
The books you "need" are dependent on your specific interests. For example, my interest (?obsession) is in bird names and their meanings, so my constant companions, amongst others, are my copies of Bonaparte's (1850-1857) 'Conspectus Generum Avium,' and Cabanis & Heine (1853-1863) 'Museum Heineanum,'' together with numerous old dictionaries! "Old" books are generally much better written, informative and more interesting than many of those on offer today. For birds in general you could try 'A Dictionary of Birds' by Alfred Newton, 1893, which is absolutely stuffed with interesting facets and nuggets of ornithology, and then gradually bring yourself up to date with: 'A New Dictionary of Birds' by Sir A. Landsborough Thomson, 1964; 'A Dictionary of Birds' by Bruce Campbell & Elizabeth Lack (eds.), 1985; and 'Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology' 3rd ed., by Irby Lovette & John Fitzpatrick (eds.). If you want to know what all the birds look like, there is always Josep del Hoyo's (2020) tour de force, 'All the Birds of the World.'
 

Andrea Collins

Beside the Duddon, Cumbria
Supporter
England
Personally I am primarily interested in what birds do, how they do it, and why they do it. Taxonomy, identification, and distribution are all useful to that end but they are not the be all and end all.

Many of the Poyser and Collins New Naturalist volumes are quite old but are still full of useful information and are sometimes still the most up to date source.

I have a complete set of the "Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic". This nine volume set of books was produced between the late 1970s and the early 1990s. Some of the information in it is therefore out of date - the distribution maps for Little Egret are amusing. However, despite their age, the books are packed full of information about Field Characters, Habitat, Food, Social Behaviour, Voice, Breeding, Plumages. Much of that information is still relevant and for some species or families it is the only or most up to date source of information available.

I still use this set of books frequently when I want to know stuff although I'll also use the internet to see if anything more up to date exists. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, but as a starting point the books are still hugely relevant.

Recent trends in bird books seem to be dominated by the production of high tech identification guides using digital photographs and whilst these books are extremely useful they tend to have little or no information beyond how to identify a bird and understand its current range. For me there is far more to a bird than that and many older books are still full of interesting information if you want to move beyond what a bird is and where it occurs. Just be aware that older books may be a good starting point for research, but not necessarily an end point.

Besides that, I personally find that browsing the shelves of a second hand bookshop with a decent natural history section is a very therapeutic pastime in its own right.
 
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