It's fall. Time to start hoarding bird books.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, many of our birds fly away in the fall. Other, very cool birds from even farther north, depending on where you live then arrive. But just about now, where I live, we are at the tail end of the migration out and not quite at the migration in, so this is a good time to take stock of what is important: Which bird books do you want people to give you for Christmas?

Before I make any suggestions, I would like to point out that Princeton, an emerging and major player in the Bird Book world, has a facebook page that, if you "like," will automatically enter you in a contest to get some signed bird books and stuff. Go here to like that page and you may get a free book. Since I already have all or most of the Princeton books, if I win one I'll give away my old copy (and keep the signed copy they are giving away .... bwahahahaha!!!!)

I've reviewed a couple of dozen bird books on this blog (see this) and I have four or five more in a pile next to me right now up for treatment over the next few days. Quite a few excellent books have come out over the last year or so. Here, I'm going to make a suggestions because this is the time of year you may be thinking of what to get your spouse, child, parent, or friend who seems fascinated with birds. First, you may need to search their car and other key spots to find out which field guides or other books they already own. Then consider these items:

The biggest thing to come along in bird identification is the Crossley ID Guide for Eastern Birds.

The Crossley ID Guide is a unique and special bird book. It is not exactly a pocket field guide, unless you are the Jolly Green Giant and have pockets the size of ... well, a big book. Nor is it a coffee table pretty-picture book, though it does have pretty pictures. The Crossley ID Guide is a large format systematic bird identification resource with a number of unique features ...

One of the most fun bird books I've ever owned is the Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding. This is NOT a bird identification guide. It is a guide to the fine details of bird anatomy, behavior, and other stuff that is linked to "birding."

The Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding (Kaufman Field Guides)is one way to bring your birding to the next level. Here, look at this conversation:

"Hey, look at that duck. It looks like a mallard but maybe it's a wood duck."

"I think it might be a wood duck because this time of year I think this might be what wood ducks look like."


How boring. And, inconclusive. Now, try this conversation on for size:

"Hey, look at that duck. It looks like a mallard but maybe it's a wood duck."

"Wood ducks that were hatched this year are going through their first molt right about now. What you see here is the plumage pattern of a first year male duck transforming over into the plumage it will have over the winter."


"That other duck right next to it that looks totally different? That's also a male wood duck in its first molt but a bit farther along."

"Wow! Really cool!"

What a difference!


Along the same lines, the not new but still fantastic Birder's Handbook is a must own. It has been around long enough that you can probably pick it up cheap at a used bookstore somewhere.

There are a number of specialized ID guides out there, on waterfowl, warblers, etc. etc. A recent addition to this list that I've made great use of is How To Identify Hawks at a Distance

Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors, takes raptor identification to a new level, showing multiple photos of hawks, eagles, kites and their kin of North America as they almost always appear: Way the hell over there!

Amazingly, it actually works to have, in a field guide, pictures of the birds where you can hardly see what you are looking at. I know that seems strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense. Unless you're going to shoot the damn thing and then pull out your Detailed Bird Anatomy Book to check it out feather by feather, you need to know what various species look like when they are .... way the hell over there!

Not new, but one that I always recommend for people to give to their middle shool or high school age kid who shows an interest in birds is The Young Birder's Guide: A Bird Book for the Middle Schooler

And for the person you know who loves birds, and evolution, and has all the bird books already, there is always this academic title: Living Dinosaurs; The evolutionary history of modern birds.

Over the next few days I'll be posting reviews of the following bird-related books:

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I keep seeing the Crossley book in the bookstore, leafing through it, and putting it back down again. It just hasn't sold itself to me yet (unlike Kaufman's book on Advanced Birding--1st and 2nd editions are both worth having, and Hawks at a Distance). Given your review, I'll look at it again with your points in mind.

One particular bird book I like is Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion. What a wealth of knowledge on those small details that help in identifying birds. In addition to the details regarding plumage, it provides details regarding behaviour (active, sluggish, flits wings, sits and stares at undersides of leaves before hopping, etc).

There are no pictures, it is just over 700 pages with the Index, and not a pocket book or field guide--it is meant to be read before going bird-watching. I used it extensively for this last fall migration, making notes on warblers and birds coming in from the arctic (longspurs, pipits, shorebirds). I considered it so valuable I brought it along despite weight limitations imposed on our personal gear by the helicopter pilots--I reduced weight by leaving my old tripod at home and buying a light-weight carbon-fiber tripod so I was still under the weight limit.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 31 Oct 2011 #permalink

Picked up NG's bird guide, 6th edition. Looked at Crossley again. Undecided still, then saw they include the four letter codes for each bird, and that tipped the balance in their favour as I'm always trying to track down those codes either online or on my portable hard drive for birds when I have to work in new regions.

By Daniel J. Andrews (not verified) on 03 Nov 2011 #permalink