Review of Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America

To be released on August 28th and published by Houghton Mifflin, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guide Series) is the end of summer, must-have edition to every birder’s library. Even though we possess over 30 field guides, it is still a much welcomed edition.

Much of what continues to make Peterson Field Guides wonderful is the history. Having been around since 1934 and being produced by one of the world’s best bird artists, Roger Tory Peterson put his heart and soul into his guides. It wasn’t about fame or money. He wholeheartedly felt his work made for better birders and his positive attitude towards improving the state of birds radiates from his guides.

Roger Tory Peterson

Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

The Peterson Field Guides are simple by design, making for a pleasant user experience without a lot of fluff or fanfare. Arguments can be made between the use of paintings vs. photos, but considering birds are dynamic creatures, constantly in motion, the point is mute. Paintings can draw the user to the main points quickly, even if the real-life situation may not be equal.

The first Peterson Guide (left) and the newest edition (right)

New Beginning
At first glance the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America almost seems “un-Peterson-ish”. The color and style is more modern, the typeface cleaner, and the overall feel much smoother. The significance of the in-your-face Northern Flickers is not lost on those familiar with R.T.P. This was Mr. Peterson’s “trigger bird”, a bird that started one of the most successful careers in birding.

Very often a single bird will get a person started bird watching. In my case it was a flicker that I saw when I was eleven, which I thought was dead – it was just a bundle of brown feathers. All of a sudden it exploded into life. That was the crucial moment of my life. I was overwhelmed by the contrast between something that was so vital and something I had taken for dead. Ever since that day I’ve felt that birds are the most vivid expression of life. Birds symbolize freedom, and I think that is why bird watching is so important to so many people. – Roger Tory Peterson

Peterson in 1930

Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

The other obvious change on the outside is that this guide is a first edition. Never before has the Peterson guide included both east and west under one cover. Of course this means the book is much heftier, but the added bulk is put to work. The overall dimensions are increased, allowing for much larger range maps and pertinent text. The format is still roughly the same: info on the left side, bird plates on the opposing right side.

The field guide has entirely updated range maps and 40 new paintings. Plus, much of Peterson’s original art work has been enhanced/altered to reflect changes without damaging the Peterson “touch”.

Fully updated range maps

Accompanying this guide is an online resource of video podcasts. These work fine for Windows, Macs, and portable audio devices. The podcasts include information on bird families, species profiles, how-to tutorials, and information about Roger Tory Peterson.

A sample screenshot of the video podcasts

The ability to stay open flat throughout is a very useful feature

Our overall feeling for this guide is great. The binding is strong, the information is straightforward, and most importantly, the artwork is unmatched. This is the birder’s field guide.

Check out tomorrow’s post to find the true test of any field guide: how did it fair in the field, sandwiched between water bottles and power bars in a backpack, and given more abuse than your normal brand new book.

Rating: 10 of 10 feathers

ISBN-13/EAN: 978-0-618-96614-1
528 pages – 6 x 9 – 195 color plates
includes URL to register for access to video podcasts
Published August 28, 2008

8 thoughts on “Review of Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America

  1. Please tell me what the name of the bird on the cover of Peterson’s Field Guide to North American Birds. Is it a hummingbird?

  2. Warren – the cover birds are a pair of Northern Flickers. Northern Flicker was Roger Tory Peterson’s “trigger” bird that got him interested in birding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *