National Audubon Society Field Guide

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region

When it comes to the size and shape of what I feel is the perfect field guide, this is it. Not too big or too little, with wonderful color photographs of all the birds.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dissect this puppy and see how it works. The Introduction of this guide is similar to other guides, except in the fact that they discuss the way they use photography as a visual guide, and their justification of using photos instead of an artist rendering. This guide though makes up with how they arrange the order of the birds themselves. The photos themselves have been arranged by visual principle. So what does this mean? Let’s say that your looking up a particular sparrow. They will be organized by not just their shape but also their color. If looking up a Henslow’s Sparrow, they will have Le’Conte’s Sparrow, and a Grasshopper Sparrow on the same page for a side by side comparison, since they have similar characteristics. This is how they categorize their group of photographs.

  1. Long-legged Waders
  2. Gull-like Birds
  3. Upright-perching Water Birds
  4. Duck-like Birds
  5. Sandpiper-like Birds
  6. Chicken-like Marsh Birds
  7. Upland Ground Birds
  8. Owls
  9. Hawk-like Birds
  10. Pigeon-like Birds
  11. Swallow-like Birds
  12. Tree-clinging Birds
  13. Perching Birds (which is further divided into 9 different colors)

The rest of the Introduction goes over species arranged by Family, English and scientific names. color and plumage, voice, habitat, nesting, range and range maps round out the remainder.

The next portion of the guide are the actual photographs of the birds. And yes they were right in the the quality of the pictures. They are wonderfully done, with the majority of the pictures being the male bird. Now they do show females and winter plumage birds when it’s necessary, but not with every bird. Believe it or not I do run into female birds. Now what do I do when I come across a female Blackburnian warbler? Here lays one of the problems with this guide. Another problem I’ve encountered is having to turn to the back of the guide to read the description, or look at their rather small, black and white range map (which I don’t like). And another issue I have with this guide, field marks. Let’s take for instance the Chuck-will’s-widow. The picture is superb, but the bird is blending in so well with the rest of the surroundings, it get’s lost. Nor does it show the white edges of it’s tail feathers, which is an identifier. It’s these little things that annoy me about this guide.

The rest of the guide are all the descriptions, and range maps (which aren’t even color). Now the range map is probably the worst part. I just measured the map of North America in the guide, and it measures out to be 1 inch by 1 inch. I wear reading glasses for crying out loud! They use black lines that run it a specific direction to signify breeding, winter, and permanent range. Now try to decipher that on a wet and windy day by Lake Erie. Give me color any day. At least I can tell the difference between pink and blue even without my glasses.

To wrap up this review, even though I’m not a fan of this field guide, the reason I bought it was for the color photographs. They are beautiful, and a very good reference for new birders. But with the internet these days, looking at photos of your favorite bird in various poses is only a click away. I feel like this guide has had it’s day. There are so many better guides out there, that the only reason to pick one up would be if it’s on sale, or at a garage sale. This one is definitely not field worthy. Stick with your Peterson or Sibley.

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