While there are a multitude of field guides to North American birds, does one stand out as better than all the rest? We try to answer this simple yet essential question as part of The New Birder Experience with Stacia.
With the many field guides out there, birders often gravitate towards one or two absolute favorites. Often three stand out above the rest: Peterson, Sibley, and Kaufman. But it is common to use several and possess many more.
But what about for a new birder? Is there one guide that stands out as most appealing, most useful, least overwhelming?
We asked our new birder, Stacia, to look through a pile of field guides ranging from the “big Sibley” to the Young Birder’s Guide and many in between. We paged through ones with drawings, ones with full photographs, and ones with digitally edited photos.
While we did not cover every guide out there, we sifted through a wide variety and came to the below conclusion to: What are the two best field guides for new birders? (We couldn’t just do ONE.)
While it didn’t officially make the top two, the simple yet informative pocket guide: Birds of Illinois Field Guide was a favorite especially for someone who may not have any interest in birds whatsoever. The colorful images and small size make this a nice page-turner and also a gift for nearly anyone of any age. The state focus is also encouraging as these are birds that are fairly easy to find.
Number two favorite: Peterson Guide to Birds of North America
The newly updated Peterson is a work of art as well as a fairly easy-to-use guide. The paintings are not overwhelming and the information is easy to digest. The mentions of abundance levels were appreciated and the overall appearance of the guide is just plain ascetic.
Number one favorite: Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
Sibley’s artwork is excellent and the arrangement of species is easy to understand. The family pages with numerous species together provide a nice overview and the use of a consistent format of how the birds are presented is appreciated.
The Eastern version is preferred over the full version for actual field use as it fits much better in a pocket than that and other guides. Also, not having all the birds of North America was considered a bonus as it reduced the amount of time to look for an ID. The potential for an un-identified rarity is there, but for new birders in general this should not be a big issue.
Each new or newer birder will have their own opinions on the best guides out there. You really can never have too many guides but just starting out it is better to stick with one or two. Often we as birders forget just how much knowledge is required to identify birds. It takes time and there is a learning curve. Field guides are there to aide in the process and make birding even more enjoyable.
How about you?
What is your favorite guide? What would you recommend to a NEW birder? We’d love to hear what you think!!