Best field guides for bird watchers
March 16, 2021 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Calling all twitchers -- can you tell me the field guides (to anywhere in the world) that you like best for serious bird watching?
posted by Capri to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want a book or an app? I use iBird Pro as an app and it's spendy for an app, but very very good and works internationally.
posted by jessamyn at 11:20 AM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

I use Sibley's Birds West. I find the illustrations to be accurate, which is the way I identify birds (as opposed, say, to bird calls).
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:34 AM on March 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe 4th Ed 1983.
The birds haven't evolved much since.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

I like iBirdPro for the photos it includes, but for me its illustrations aren't as good as Sibley's. Sibley's field guides are broken down into eastern and western North America, while the app covers the entire continent. Sibley's Guide to Birds book also covers the continent, but it's too bulky to fit into a pocket and is meant as more of desk/car reference. Many apps also include bird songs and calls, which can be indispensable in identifying birds in many situations.

And while it's not a field guide (again, you wouldn't carry it around in your pocket while in the field) The Warbler Guide is great for North American warblers. I find the app useful as well, again, particularly for having access to songs and calls.
posted by mollweide at 12:22 PM on March 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

I use Sibley’s, the illustrations are the best I’ve seen for helping differentiate birds.

I do like to pair it with the most hyper local bird guide I can find though. If I’m in a State or National park I ask the rangers if they have a bird list, they usually do, and if I’ll be traveling around a region I’ll see if there’s a guide for that area. I also use ebird to scout out what’s recently been seen sometimes when I’m out hiking. Having a good list to narrow down what I’m likely to see plus a Sibley on hand tends to do the trick.

And this is very specific but when you are working at becoming good at raptors Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors and Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight are very helpful.
posted by lepus at 12:37 PM on March 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm a Sibley loyalist & mostly use the Western US edition. I have the National Geographic, too, but prefer the Sibley. The birds may not change over time, but our understanding of them does, and species get split or grouped or renamed every year.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:39 PM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

> And this is very specific but when you are working at becoming good at raptors Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors and Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight are very helpful

Absolutely this if you want to learn your raptors! Jerry Liguori is the best.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:41 PM on March 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bird in the eastern and central US, and have liked:

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of the Easter and Central US - Easiest of paper guides to take in the field, has arrows pointing to field marks.

Sibley Guide to Birds - I like the illustrations more than Peterson, It shows the birds in many different positions. And the larger format includes more descriptions alongside each image. (I flip back and forth less in Sibley, with Peterson I feel like I jump around more) Sibley is more of a coffee table or keep in a vehicle kind of book, it's a lot to lug around in the field with you. Sibley also has an app, which is expensive, but useful in that it allows you to compare birds side by side.

When I first started, I liked National Geographic Guide to Birds of the Eastern US because the edition I had had index tabs on the side so I could easily find bird families.

And I fully acknowledge that the very serious birders/twitchers take issue with it, but I really like Cornell University's Merlin app. I find the photos are very clear, and you have access to spectographs and recordings of the bird calls and songs. The Merlin app can be a little frustrating because it only shows birds expected for your location. You may miss out on a rarity because you can't access the entire index of birds.
posted by Guess What at 12:41 PM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

And so I don't abuse the edit window...

I also agree that The Warbler Guide and Hawks at a Distance/Hawks at Every Angle books mentioned above are great in-depth looks into those specific species.

In a similar vein, the Peterson Guide to Seawatching is good if you would like to learn how to identify seabirds, gulls, and shorebirds.
posted by Guess What at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

As a lifelong birder, I’d feel naked going out without my Peterson’s guides. I have the version with the field binding. It’s held up well over the years. FWIW, I find identifying a bird far easier and quicker using the book, rather than an app.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Collins Bird Guide is probably overkill for beginners but very good for proper birding in Europe. I mainly use it as an app these days just to save weight but I do still own the paper version.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2021

Nthing Sibley's books and the iBird Pro app for North American birding.
posted by scrubjay at 4:26 PM on March 16, 2021

I use Sibley at the banding station because it shows more variations, but Petersen in the field cause it's physically smaller and has an emotional connection.
But really, if I have phone data, it's to find them and to ID them.
posted by Freyja at 4:37 PM on March 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

I use the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America. I like its layout: the list of bird families at the front is very useful, the index works well and the illustrations are good. I'm not so fond of the lifelist but you learn a lot figuring it out. I've also made it my own: it's the closest thing to a travel diary that I have. I love it as an object.

It's not the only Field Guide I use though, just the authority of first resort. If I'm birding with others I borrow their books and experience. I use iBird Pro and Merlin if I'm on my own. At home I have Sibley and NatGeo which help fix variations of appearance in that thing generally and laughingly called my brain. And then there's the internet as mentioned above and YouTube.
posted by firstdrop at 5:30 PM on March 16, 2021

Response by poster: Any guides outside of North America?
posted by Capri at 11:27 PM on March 17, 2021

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