Select the Best Bird Field Guide for You

Why do you need a birding field guide?

As a birder you are on a journey. Maybe you are searching for a better understanding of wild birds and how they relate to the world around them. Maybe you are simply compiling a list of all of the wild birds you see. In either case, you need a way to identify the birds that you see. A good guide is what you need.

There are many excellent field guides available. The one that works best for you is really a personal preference. Take your time and look through as many guides as you can. You will find many differences as you study each guide. One main difference you will see is that some include illustrations and others have photographs and others may have both.


Drawings usually emphasize details that help withidentification. Some include several drawings for a species with different perspectives, close-up head views, winter plumage and even flight patterns. The Peterson Field Guide is my favorite. The illustrations are beautiful. The organization of the information is easy to use. There are also expanded maps in the back of the book for finer range detail.

Guides with photographs may only have a picture of the male and female. My personal preference is a guide with illustrations. You will need to decide which one works best for you. There are othercharacteristics you should consider when choosing a birding guide. The Stokes Field Guide includes photographs. I find the organization of the information easy to use, everything you need is on one page.

Features of a Birding Field Guide:


Most popular guides fit into your hip pocket or your jacket pocket.There are belt pouches available to accommodate larger guides.


Your birding guide should match your geographic location. Many guides are designed in either western or eastern editions. Depending were you live you may need both. There are also guides available that include all of North America.

Whatever guide you choose, you should make sure that itincludes all of the species that normally occur in your area. Some guides will omit less common birds. Finding an uncommon bird is very exciting; not being able to identify it is frustrating to say the least.


The reason for having a bird guide is wild bird identification.Your guide should include range details, detailed descriptions,distinguishing field marks, migration information, habitat andbehavioral information and vocalization descriptions.

Timeliness and Accuracy:

A field guide that is more than two years old is likely missing newinformation. Species are constantly being reevaluated, reclassified and renamed. You may want to consider purchasing a new field guide every two or three years. Errors and omissions can be frustrating. Noguide is flawless, so do some research before you buy a new guide.Asking your birding friends for recommendations or reading reviews are great places to start.


You will find that field guides differ greatly when it comes to how they are organized. Birds will be grouped together by size, habitat, beak shape, wing shape or any number of other characteristics.This is why you need to take some time and look through several guides before making a choice.

Your goal is to be able to identify a bird that is unfamiliarto you. You may only have a few minutes or even seconds to locate a picture and description of the unknown bird in your guide.

One way to improve you identification skills and familiarize yourself with you new guide is to practice at home. Identify birds at your bird feeders, even if you know what they are. Try to find them without using the index. Practicing at home will reduce your frustration when out in the field.


This could also be called page layout. I prefer a guide that has all the species information on the same page; illustration, descriptiontext and range map. Having to flip to different pages to find theinformation you need wastes precious time.


A good bird watching guide will include a description of the process of how to identify an unknown bird. It should explain how the author has organized the information needed for identification. This should include species comparisons, field marks, specific features, habitat, range and abundance.

After searching for the perfect birding field guide you are sure to discover that it does not exist. You may like the organization of one and the design of another. The true test will be in the field.How the birding guide works for you when it comes time to identify an unknown bird is the true test.

If you are having a hard time deciding which guide is best for you, consider purchasing two. Carrying two birding field guides will give you different options when identifying birds. It is likely that in time one will become your primary birding guide.

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