Hey Bird Guy! I’m just starting to get into birding and would like a book to help me ID the birds. I’ve looked online and it is confusing. What do you suggest?
-N.B. of Channing Park
Great question, N. You are right. There are lots of choices in bird guides. I have a few ideas which you might find helpful. If you are trying to learn the birds in our local area, one thing that will help you is finding a book which specializes in the birds which are here. There is no sense showing you pictures of a bird that may look similar to one in your backyard, if the pictured bird only lives in the Sahara Desert. Even a book that only shows birds of North America will have lots of birds that simply don’t live or even migrate through Florida. A Florida specific bird identification guide will really help you get started.
Another issue many beginning birders have with the larger, more advanced bird guides is they are not user friendly. This causes the user to simply start at the beginning of the book and look at all the pictures to find the best match. That is not very efficient and will soon become frustrating. Your neighborhood bird seed store (coincidentally owned by the very Bird Guy who writes this column) Rich’s Backyard Birds, has a wonderful book called Birds Of Florida that is organized by color. So if you see a bird you would like to ID and the only thing you know is the bird is black and white, you just turn to the section of the book showing the black and white birds. This is a super book for the beginning birder. It also shows the male and female birds if they are different looking as well as winter/summer plumage differences where appropriate. While the book doesn’t show all the birds which may occur in the state, it does have the 140 most common species.
Once a birder has a good handle on the local birds and would like to expand his/her knowledge, it is time to move up to the more detailed and broader scoped field guides. I like the National Geographic Guide as well as the Sibley Guide. Both these are larger books but they do come in Eastern and Western breakdowns for portability purposes. These books have drawings of the birds rather than photographs. The drawings are often preferable because a photo displays only one bird in whatever sunlight and setting the picture was taken and the plumage the bird is in at that time.