The Perfect Field Guide

What is the perfect bird field guide? Different people have different needs and preferences so it is all but impossible to say that there is a “perfect” field guide. I thought it would be good to ask the staff here what they thought.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming winner was The Sibley Field Guide To Birds. We all agreed that it is the most thorough field guide we have ever seen and the artwork is fantastic. Not only does Sibley give you multiple drawings of each bird, he is the first artist to draw all birds in flight from above and below. The Eastern version of his field guide is perfect for those who live and bird in the Midwest.

As much as I love David Allen Sibley’s book, I still will not go birding without a copy of National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. From the first time I saw this book (1985) I knew I had to have one and am currently on my 4th copy. As a serious birder, I like that it covers the rarest of birds that have been seen in North America as well as the common species. I like to travel and this guide is great for any region of the country that I am visiting.

There are several guides that drew praises from our staff. Ruth is fond of the American Bird Conservancy’s All The Birds of North America. She writes “This field guide is one of my favorites. The first half of the guide covers waterbirds and the back half covers the landbirds. The main sections are divided into bird groups such as shorebirds, curved bills, ground walkers, and a poignant section is devoted the extinct birds of North America. There is a great essay about each group of birds on the first pages of their section. The artwork in this guide is excellent and includes wonderful scenes of each bird’s typical habitat. I like to keep All the Birds andPeterson’s East in my car for impromptu birding. (I happen to know that Mark keeps an All the Birds in his truck!) At $19.95, this is a great guide at a reasonable price.”

Since Ruth and I both wrote about books with drawings, John felt he should comment on a book with photos. Beginning bird watchers generally like books with photographs of birds and the new Birds of Missouri Field Guide by Stan Tekiela is terrific. The photographs are of the highest quality and birds are arranged by color. For a beginner, this is very helpful. It is small in size and is only $12.95.

One thing is for certain, I don’t know of a single birder who only has one field guide. The longer you enjoy this hobby, the more likely you will be to find different things you like about different guides. If you really want to put different books to the test, come on one of our bird hikes. I can guarantee that there will be several different field guides to study.

By Mark McKellar

SPRING 2005