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2.1. Which field guide should I buy as a first purchase?


This article is from the Birds FAQ, by Lanny Chambers with numerous contributions by others.

2.1. Which field guide should I buy as a first purchase?

The most general advice one can give is this: Go to your bookstore and
buy any field guide in which the birds are illustrated with paintings
rather than photographs. Paintings in field guides pose the birds for
maximum learning, and call attention to the distinguishing features
that are most important in the field. Regrettably, the National
Audubon Society's field guide uses photos, and is thus of limited
learning value. On the other hand, photo field guides do show birds
as they would appear under actual lighting conditions, so they can be
valuable in making identifications. You may wish to consider a
photo-based field guide as a later purchase; it's common for birders
to own and use several field guides.

The ultimate advice for a first-purchase field guide is this: go to a
bookstore and select whichever book for your area you feel most
comfortable with. Enjoyable associations with the birding hobby have
begun with all.

In North America, the four most popular painted general-purpose field
guides are the following:

National Geographic Society: _Field Guide to the Birds of North
ISBN: 0-87044-692-4

Peterson, Roger Tory: _A Field Guide to the Birds_ (eastern and
and _Western Birds_ (published by Houghton Mifflin)
ISBN: 0-395-26619-X, 0-395-51424-X

Zim, Herbert S., et al: _Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North
America_ (published by Golden Books, hence called the "Golden" book)
ISBN: 0-307-37002-X and 0-307-33656-5 (pbk.)

Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the
Peterson books are easier to carry in the field than the NGS book,
because each covers only half the continent. Beginners may find it
helpful that each Peterson volume shows only those birds likely to be
found in its covered region, so there are fewer confusing choices (of
course, birds do wander).

The NGS book and the Golden book both present each species' range map
on the same page as its description, a great convenience. The Golden
book is the only one of the three to to present "sonograms," graphical
representations of birds' songs and calls, but these graphs are
difficult to use correctly.

All of the books include a few paintings which some birders find

North American beginners who feel overwhelmed by the number of birds
in these all-purpose books should consider the _Peterson First Guide:
Birds_. It displays the most common North American birds in a
convenient format.

An often recommended European field guide is Lars Jonsson's _Birds of
Europe, with North Africa and Middle East_, although it is a bit large
for easy portability. In the U.K. and central Europe, Harris, Tucker,
and Vinicombe's _The Macmillan field guide to bird identification_
will be useful. (The book is available in French and German as well
as English.) David Allen writes that the Macmillan guide does not
cover all species; rather, it shows those species most easily confused
with one another.

Peterson, R., Mountfort, G., and Hollom, P.A.D.: _A Field Guide to the
Birds of Britain and Europe_ (Collins, 1993)
ISBN: 0-00-219073-7 "The basic Peterson guide with painted
plates and pointers; maps and descriptions separate. The new
edition is certainly available in Spanish, and I think in
French and German as well." --David Allen

Heinzel, H., Fitter, R., and Parslow, J.: _The Birds of Britain and
with North Africa and the Middle East_ (1995)
ISBN: 0-00-219894-0 Expanded from the 1979 version, with
improved plates. Fits into a pocket. "Especially good on
geographic forms." --Derek Turner

Perrins, C.: _New Generation Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe_
(Collins, 1987)
ISBN: 0-00-219769-3 "More plumage variants than any other
small guide, maps and text opposite illustrations, and a whole
section on general ornithology topics, anatomy, behaviour,
etc. BUT four of the illustrations fit onto a postage stamp.
My favourite guide for use in the field."--DA

Ferguson-Lees, J.; Willis, I.; Sharrock, J.T.R.: _The Shell Guide to
the Birds of Britain and Ireland_ (Michael Joseph, 1983)
ISBN: 0-7181-2220-8 "Vignette illustrations, painted, including
plenty of action shots showing typical poses. Maps, text, and
illustrations all together. Split into two sections: regulars
and rarities."--DA

Jorgen Grahn recommends _The Hamlyn Guide to Birds of Britain and
Europe_ by Bruun, Delin, Svensson; illustrations by Singer,
Zetterstrom. Select a recent edition.

The most commonly used field guides for Australian birds are Simpson
and Day, _Field Guide to the Birds of Australia_ (Penguin Books,
Aust.); and Slater, Slater, and Slater, _The Slater Field Guide to
Australian Birds_ (Weldon)

King et al., _A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia_ (Collins,
London) has also been recommended (although it now seems to be out of


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