Books about birds : Golden Field Guides series

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Golden Field Guides series

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Golden Field Guides are published by St. Martin's Press

Book reviews written by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

 

Birds of North America : A Guide to Field Identification

(Golden Field Guide Series) First edition by Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, Herbert S. Zim. April 2001 edition : Revisions by Jonathan P. Latimer, Karen Stray Nolting, and James Coe. Illustrations by Arthur B. Singer. ISBN 1582380902

Birds of North America : A Guide to Field Identification

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            Birds of North America (paperback, 360 pages), the most popular field and backyard birdwatching guide book since its first edition in the 1960s, is now available in an April 2001 update. A major reason for its popularity has been that it permits identification of over 800 species of birds, and yet it has a convenient size to carry in a jacket pocket (height 7.50, width 4.65, thickness 0.66 inches).

            The book needed to be updated, not due to errors or omissions, but mainly because the lastest scientific data has changed some of the conclusions of biologists. In particular, recent DNA analysis has told us more about how species are related to one another, requiring some changes in species classification. A list of birding web site addresses has also been added to the new edition.

            The color illustrations by artist Arthur Singer are, in the words of book reviewer Dr. Jeffrey A. Harvey, "painstakingly accurate." There are separate illustrations for each species and sex.

            The text describes physical appearance, song, flight, habitat, migration, feeding and breeding.

            Measurement tables, summarizing the physical dimensions of adult and juvenile males and females, use abbreviations to conserve space, for example, L for wingspan.

            The range maps are sketches of North America shaded in different colors and crosshatches, to indicate where each bird is commonly found in each season of the year, as well as migration times.

            Sonagrams, bird song graphs in the form of pitch in kilohertz versus time in seconds, provide a visual representation of each chirp, tweet and whistle, and their rate of repetition.

            The introduction explains how to get started with bird identification, by looking first at the field marking (such physical clues as the shape of the head, or colored stripes or rings around the eyes) and behavior (such as hopping and tail flicking).

            The 3-page table of contents follows the taxonomic classification, for example, hummingbirds ..... order Apodiformes, family Trichilidae -- page 186. The 6-page section beginning on that page has a paragraph of remarks about what all hummingbirds have in common, followed by 17 paragraphs discerning between 17 species of hummingbirds, and the accompanying color illustrations.

            The 1-page 3-column quick index is conveniently located as the last page of the book, immediately preceded by the 14-page 3-column complete index.

            Highest possible recommendation.

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Eastern Birds : A Guide to Field Identification

(Golden Field Guide Series) First Edition : Written and illustrated by James Coe. ISBN 1582380937

Eastern Birds : A Guide to Field Identification

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            Eastern Birds (paperback, 160 pages) is less complete in some ways than Birds of North America , which has more than than twice as many pages.

            This isn't only due to its regional focus (another volume entitled Western Birds is expected to be published in the near future.) Eastern Birds also omits a few features that has made Birds of North America the most popular field guide for the more fanatical birdwatchers, omitting the tables of dimensions and the bird song sonagrams. It covers fewer species, concentrating on the more common ones. For example, the only hummingbird it discusses is the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is the only species common in the eastern half of the country. The larger volume, by comparison, discusses seventeen species of hummingbirds, sixteen of which most eastern readers may disregard.

            Many readers will find this abridgement of rarer species to be a positive attribute, allowing space for more discussion of the common species, and slightly larger color illustrations. Many bird lovers will buy both volumes, since any topic is easier to learn when the learner receives the perspectives of different authors describing it in their own words.

            Compared to those in the larger book, the illustrations in Eastern Birds depict more of the typical habitat, e.g., the thrush is depicted in its favorite place, the undergrowth of an evergreen forest (page 115), while the sparrow is illustrated in a way that shows that it prefers the brush and thickets (page 142).

            Like Birds of North America , Eastern Birds provides color-coded range maps, indicating in which parts of North America one is most likely to encounter each species, as well as indicating its migration pattern.

            For encyclopedic completeness, I like Birds of North America slighter better than Eastern Birds, but it's a close competition.

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Bird Life : A Guide to the Behavior and Biology of Birds

(Golden Field Guide Series) First edition , written by Stephen W. Kress , Ph.D , illustrated by John D. Dawson. ISBN 1582381356

Bird Life : A Guide to the Behavior and Biology of Birds

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            (paperback, 160 pages) In contrast to the two field guides previously reviewed here, which focus on means to identify birds by species according to their characteristics, Bird Life describes the social life of birds, their food storage, body care, courting and mating, nesting and brooding, care of offspring, territory defense, migration, and related behaviors. The type of flight is related to the type of feathers. A 14-page section on songs and calls is followed by a 2-page discussion of the sense of hearing in birds.

            Don't be afraid of the word "biology" in the subtitle. The text isn't overly technical. However, there are diagrams of bird anatomy, e.g., the production of songs in the syrinx due to membrane vibration.

            Two chapters on conservation explain wildlife legislation, the working of a national wildlife refuge, etc. The text explains the effects on birds of such environmental damage as ozone depletion, acid rain, and oil spills.

            An 18-page section explains the fundamentals of artificial backyard bird habitats: buying or making birdhouses and birdfeeders, selecting the best birdseed, and information about birdbaths and other water supplies. You can plant particular shrubs or trees according to which kinds of birds would most like to attract.

            3-page 3-column index. Very well organized. Highly recommended to naturalists and life science students of all ages.

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Birds : A Guide to Familiar Birds of North America

(Golden Field Guide Series) Written by Herbert S. Zim and Ira N. Gabrielson, revised and updated by Chandler S. Robbins, et. al., illustrated by James Gordon Irving. ISBN 1582381283

Birds : A Guide to Familiar Birds of North America

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            (Paperback, 160 pages) Birds is the physically smallest of the four books in this series, with a height of 5.99, width 3.93, thickness 0.34 inches.

            Birds features 129 species, each with an illustration that fills about two-thirds of a page, and accompanied by a single paragraph of text, and a range map.

            Young readers may prefer this book to the other three, due to the selection of fewer and the most common species, and much larger illustrations of these. Furthermore, technical information that may or may not be of interest is relocated to a table at the back of the book. My 10-year-old and 12-year-old daughters were very attracted to this book.

            The additional facts are found in the appendix, the The Birds at a Glance feature. This is a 23-page table of data for each species: when and where it arrives and departs during migration, sizes and colors of eggs, locations and materials of nests, and food preferences.

            General information is placed in front of the book: how to identify birds (4 pages), parts of a bird (1), bird classification (3), a "family tree" of species relationships (2), adaptations (2), attracting birds (2 pages), etc.

            2-page table of scientific names. 3-page 3-column index.

            Strongly recommended to readers who would like an introduction to the subject, or a quick and intuitive understanding; not recommended as a field reference for an advanced birdwatcher. If you like to learn in stages, read this book first, and then graduate to using the more extensive Birds of North America.

            An excellent book for parents to give to their children and teens, to spark in them a sense of wonder about nature and wildlife.

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