Bird watching For Dummies

I’ve been rather negligent in getting my reviews either read or reviewed. It seems that I’ve been busy with birding than reading guides. However for the past few days I’ve caught up on a book that I’ve been promising to review for several months.

So as promised, here is my take on “Bird Watching For Dummies”, yet another one from the ever popular “Dummies Series”. Having quite a few of these type of books already, I find them very useful and fill a purpose. A few years ago at Christmas I was given an ipod as a present. However I couldn’t rely on my two oldest children to help me all the time, especially if they were off at college, so I went out and picked up “ipod and itunes for Dummies”. The perfect reference book to go to if I have an issue. The same holds true for this book as well.

Written by Bill Thompson III, Editior of Bird Watcher’s Digest and native Ohioan, Bill adds his wonderful sense of humor throughout the book. Having over 380 pages, this would be the perfect gift for any would be bird watcher. For me though, I enjoy how other people approach this topic. I have several books relating to beginner bird watching, and this one by far is the most superior. Having several decades of birding experience under his belt, Bill Thompson covers each section with the basic knowledge that anyone could follow, even young birders.

The break down on how the book is put together is classic “Dummies” style. In the front, some cartoons poking fun at us birders, then the Contents at a Glance section before the actual Table of Contents. For anyone who’s ever read this type of book will know that this could be the most frequently used portion. I myself go to this portion routinely. Remember, we who are more experienced, will use this book more as a reference book than anything else. That’s why I really like this book.

It has the usual Introduction where they talk about why you need this book, and how it’s organized, and also how to use it. Then the page with the famous “Dummies” icons. These are no different than other icons used in other “Dummies” books, however these have that bird twist which sets them apart. You find them throughout the book and they include Field Trip, Backyard Tip, Birdy Words, Birdiquette, Pointer, Bird Tales (my favorite), Careful, Remember, and Bird Friendly.

Part 1 of the book is titled “Watching Birds: A Natural Habit”. The 5 chapters in this part cover such topics as bird behavior, bird sounds and helping to identify birds. Anything you want to know about optics is also covered in this section. I think the best part of this section is the chapter on birds and the people who love them. I enjoy hearing others point of view on what makes us tick as birders, and why do we have this urge to do what we do.

Part 2 is your Backyard Bird Watching section. Starting with making your yard a bird friendly habitat by using water features and providing proper shelter for our feathered friends, to becoming a bird conservator. One whole chapter is given up to just bird feeders and the types of food to provide. Other chapter cover topics that include constructing nest boxes and how to monitor them, gardening for birds, how to tackle the common pests we come across when we start to feed birds regularly. In Part 2 Bill talks about 4 of our favorite birds to watch and gives us a little more insight into these species. Hummingbirds, Bluebirds, Purple Martins, and Hawks. From explaining what they are, to how to attract them, what to feed them (except Hawks), and how to house them. These are some of my favorite birds and if you’re able to attract them, I’m sure they will become your favorites as well.

Part 3 is the meat and potatoes of the book. Taking everything you’ve learned so far and take it into the field. Hence the title of this part is “Bird Sighting 101: Using Your Tools. Now’s the time to take your binoculars out of their case  and learn how to use them properly. How to pick the right field guide for yourself and most importantly, how to use it. Then Bill takes these skills you’ve just learned and expands on them, making you a better birder. The final chapter in thisThis section is the  part is called “Writing It Down”. A chapter after my own heart.

Part 4 goes “Beyond The Backyard”, and introduces the reader to taking field trips, birding hotspots, birding tours, and how to bird by habitat. Since I myself will be attending a birding festival in May, the chapter on “Festivals and Other Events” was of particular interest to me. Being an ex-scout leader, the chapter of field trips was a must read. This is the “Be Prepared” section that I love. I enjoyed comparing what I normally take on a typical field trip to what Bill Thompson takes, or rather suggests. I enjoy other birders pearls of wisdom. The ones where you slap yourself in the forehead and say what a great idea.

Part 5 is titled “Once You’re Hooked”. This section is the “Now we need you to get involved” portion of the book. Wherever there is a bird club, or Audubon Society, there will be annual events that will keep you busy and involved. You could participate in a Christmas Bird Count (no, they don’t actually do this on Christmas), to North America Migration Count, to becoming a volunteer at a refuge. Now’s the time to take all that you’ve learned and to give back a little or a lot. For myself, I’m still a Merit Badge Counselor for the Boy Scouts of America. And every year my friend Phil and myself hold an all day Bird Study Merit Badge class. This is the kind of stuff you might end up doing once the hook is set. Other chapters in the section deal with better optics, advanced bird ID’ing, bringing out the artist in you through field sketching, to noticing other flying creatures.

Part 6 is titled “The Part of Tens” This is the last part and the shortest. Here Bill talks about the ten tips on when and when not to use your binoculars. My favorite chapter is Bill’s top ten favorite hotspots. These are places I need to my birding bucket list. the last chapter is “Ten Birding Myths”. A great little chapter with Bill’s sense of humor sprinkled throughout.

Right in the middle of the book is a 32 color page section. With wonderful drawings on what an ideal garden would look like to attract birds to some outstanding bird photos. A very nice addition to any book.

Overall, 2 big thumbs up on putting together simply a great book for the beginner, novice and experienced bird watcher. Having an experienced birder like Bill Thompson author a book geared towards the beginner, then adding his wit throughout makes for a must buy book. All the topics presented were laid out simply for easy following and quick referencing. You won’t go wrong if you purchase this book for your ever expanding bird library.

2 responses to “Bird watching For Dummies

  1. where are the bald eagles being seen? please be specific….we live in white oak….all sightings listed are from last year or earlier…

    • Pam the Bald Eagle this last week was seen at East Fork State Park last Monday. All my information is gathered at
      If you go back through some of the back posting of “Your Week In Review” you’ll notice that we get Bald Eagle sighting almost every week. They are getting to be quite common around your larger bodies of water and rivers. I have good luck near the Lost Bridge area. Cowan Lake State Park had an adult 2 weeks ago as well. I hope this helps. When I write my week in review, it’s just that a review. At the end I supply a link to Cincinnati Birds web site if people want more specific locations or species. I hope this helps.

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