I own several field guides that use photographic plates for bird identification. And furthermore, if you’ve read any of my past reviews, you probably know by now that I’m not a big fan. I prefer the artistic rendition, even though some artists are better at their craft than others. But that’s another story altogether.
If I remember correctly, my second field guide I ever owned was “The Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Birds” (Eastern Region). That was my very first field guide where photographs were used. I also own “The Audubon Society Master Guide To Birding”. That’s 3 volumes, and a big improvement over my other Audubon field guide. This massive set is used more for reference than practical field work.
With that said, why would I go out and purchase “The Stokes Field Guide To The Birds Of North America”, their latest work? The reviews. They have been nothing but outstanding. “A must have for any serious birder”. “Even if you’re not a serious bird watcher, the photography speaks for itself”. “The best work the Stokes have ever done”. Those are the kind of remarks I’m reading. So with all the praise still embedded in my thoughts, I used my Border’s gift card and ordered it online.
Well after owning this field guide for a couple of months now, I must admit that Don and Lillian Stokes have put together a remarkable piece of work. Weighing in at 2 3/4 LBS this is no little book. Even though the dimensions are perfect for a field guide, it’s when you look at it from the side is when you realize that there’s more to this book. It’s 1 1/2″ thick. It’s not a book, it’s a brick. But what a brick. Packed with 3,400 photos this field guide will amaze you with stunning photographs covering all birds of North America.
As with all field guides, it always starts with the “How To Use This Field Guide” section. All the pertinent information needed so you won’t fumble your way through the book. This section is then followed by “Photo Key To The Parts Of Birds”. This is always nice to know when you read a description of a certain bird what a malar stripe is before hand.
The beginning of the field guide is short and sweet, without a lot of fluff, just the facts. Then comes the meat of the book. Over 780 pages divided into 23 different sections. And these sections are color coded, so if you know which color the Vireo’s are under, this will help speed the process of finding the Vireo’s. Also in the beginning of each section they provide some helpful tips to aid in identifying certain species in general.
The description for each species is very thorough, especially when it comes to describing the birds shape. It will describe the shape in general, then goes into detail if it’s a juvenile, male of female, and in the case of gulls, all the different phases that you might run into if your looking at, let’s say a Thayer’s Gull. You’ll get photographs and descriptions of the Thayer’s Gull as an adult in Summer and Winter. Then if that’s not enough, photographs and descriptions of them in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd winter plumage. Both in flight and on the ground.
This is how the whole book lays out for the reader. It’s very user friendly, with the exception of the small range maps, which are hard to see even if you have good vision. However they are acceptable since they use color to differentiate between Summer, Winter and year round range. With each photograph, they add this small feature which I found to be helpful. They add the state and the month of the year the picture was taken. Also whether it’s an adult male, or female, or a juvenile.
One aspect that the Stokes use in describing a particular species, is the flight pattern of the bird. I don’t think I own a field guide that describes how a certain species flies. Most field guide will touch upon the flying habits of certain birds if it’s relevant to the species, such as woodpeckers. But I would say with certainty, that they touch upon each species flight pattern, and raises the bar for future field guides.
The one thing that I thought was misleading was the bonus CD. If you look at the cover of the book it states, “Bonus CD with more than 600 bird sounds”. There are only 150 different species listed on the CD, so just remember that all birds have more than one voice. So if you’re thinking that your getting over 600 different bird species tracks, think again.
To sum this review up, I’d give two big thumbs up. I’m really glad I was able to add this to my library, and would recommend this book to anyone. And at $24.00 list price, how can you go wrong.