Review of Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Jam-packed with 2,000 color photographs, the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a bold, eye-catching addition to the ever-increasing line of bird guides. We know what you may be thinking: “Another field guide? I already own four, why get another one?”

While it may be true that you can never have too many field guides, each new one that comes out is an attempt to be a better birder-serving guide to the wonderful creatures we know of as birds. The Smithsonian covers all the bases of a field guide and probably won’t replace the “big three” – Sibley, Kaufman, and Peterson.

However, the Smithsonian may fill a gap between young birders under 13 (who are drawn to the Young Birders Guide to Birds of Eastern North America) and those birders who aren’t quite old enough or experienced enough to use advanced guides. While not completely geared towards them, we feel that the Smithsonian is the bird guide for teenagers.

Accompanying the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds is a DVD loaded with 587 bird sounds covering 138 species. While many advanced birders (in age and skill) already have a more complete selection of bird sounds (some even on tape, gasp!), teenage birders will benefit greatly from loading up their iPods with a nice collection of bird sounds to take in the field or study anywhere. While there are better CD collections available, this one is added in the price of the field guide, providing an attractive package for cash-strapped teenage birders.

Red-headed Woodpecker, a perfect coverbird
Red-headed Woodpecker {Melanerpes erythrocephalus}

Each family section of birds is introduced with an elegant and informative passage that is well worth reading before heading out in the field. The layout is clean and uncluttered with usually only one or two species per page. Many of the species have photos of the bird perched, in flight, and in other ways that best display crucial identification marks.

Written by Ted Floyd, editor of the American Birding Association’s Birding Magazine, the Smithsonian Guide has noticeable appeal to those looking to pad their ABA area lists. The guide uses a code system to assist birders in knowing the difficulty of finding certain birds. However, this system loses its attractiveness when all but 69 of the 730 species of birds covered in the guide are under Code 1 or Code 2.

4 thoughts on “Review of Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America

  1. I have to protest. Ted Floyd is the a u t h o r of this guide, not the editor. And there’s a great deal more here to appeal to “advanced” birders than in Kaufman or (good gracious) Peterson. The introductory comments on birding as a neo-typological enterprise are worth the price of admission, and the fact that each species is assigned to a molt strategy is priceless. The photographs are, simply put, the best collection in any guide using that medium, and there are new and wonderful nuggets of information in nearly every species account.
    Read this book again, guys!

  2. Oops! Slip of the keys when trying to write that Mr. Floyd is the editor of Birding and the writer of this guide.

    In doing this review we were attempting to give this guide its own category amongst the onslaught of field guides. (We forgot to apply our usual rating system but this guide would have still gotten a 9 of 10 feathers). We were more impressed with the addition of providing bird songs with the guide and thus projecting it for the class of teenage/newer birders (but not totally new).

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