Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Your Favorite Field Guide?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Photo by Mitch Casey for BWD.

I'm doing an informal survey here on Bill of the Birds about the various field guides to the birds that we bird watchers use.

Here are a few questions that I really want to ask (and I hope you'll be willing to answer):

1. How many field guides do you own?

2. What is your favorite field guide and why?

3. Do you prefer field guides illustrated with photographs or with artwork/paintings?

4. Do you always take a field guide with you when you go birding?

5. Do you find yourself using one guide in the field but referring to a different guide at home?

6. Do you think printed (book format) field guides will ever be replaced by digital devices (such as the
Handheld Birds PDA that features the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds.)?

Please use the comment function here to post your answers.

I'll be interested to see what y'all have to say.


On April 17, 2007 at 12:32 PM Birdfreak said...

1. Lost count but estimate 15+ (plus more international ones)

2. Kaufman because it is well put together... also the "big" Sibley

3. No preference - both have positives; pictures show "real" marks but drawings can add emphasis

4. Not every time but most of the time

5. Yes; I have many "at-home" references that would be hard to use in the field.

6. Hard to say... Field guides are great because you can write notes in them, mark pages, study multiple birds on a page at a time, etc. But electronic devices offer the potential for quick updates and fast species finding. But they lack the feel of a book and the ability to flip around. Also, the device would need to be waterproof... a $15 field guide can get wet but I don't think I'd risk it with a $400 electro-gadget.

6a. I enjoy using electronic devices to enhance birding but these items are always complementary - nothing will ever replace the feeling of simplicity with just a good 'ole field guide and Swarovski's hung around my neck.

On April 17, 2007 at 12:47 PM Anonymous said...

1. Seven
2. Stokes and/or Sibley
3. Photographs
4. Usually
5. Yes. The "at home" references are too large.
6. No. I have a birdpod, but I also take my field guide.

On April 17, 2007 at 1:20 PM Patrick Belardo said...

I think I own all of those in the picture...

1. If we're speaking about bird field guides for the US, I own about 12-14.

2. Any Sibley guide because the drawings are detailed, it has all/most plumages, and in-flight drawings. Peterson is a close second because the arrows on the field marks get right to the point.

3. Paintings, although I think beginners prefer photos.

4. I always have one in my car, but I don't carry it if I'm birding alone unless I'm travelling in a completely new location where I will see unfamiliar birds. If I'm leading a trip, I always have one for reference.

5. Yes, I tend to use the small Sibley in the field and then refer to National Geographic or the big Sibley at home as a backup.

6. I have to agree with Birdfreak. With the integration of cell phones and PDA technology, these devices may become more popular, but there's nothing like being able to flip through a book and compare species easily. I also don't see myself lying in bed studying my PDA. The screen is just too small on all of these devices. The waterproof comment is very accurate too, even though books aren't exactly waterproof either. I'd rather buy a new book or have a damp book than have to get a new device.

On April 17, 2007 at 4:35 PM Charles Haynes said...

1. How many field guides do you own? 9

2. What is your favorite field guide and why?

I like 3...Peterson for the size of the illlustrations, newer versions, and it's the natural evolution of the guide I started with. Sibley for more information and National Geographic for some invironmental info.

3. Do you prefer field guides illustrated with photographs or with artwork/paintings?

Both, paintings for what to see, photographs for detail.

4. Do you always take a field guide with you when you go birding?


5. Do you find yourself using one guide in the field but referring to a different guide at home?


6. Do you think printed (book format) field guides will ever be replaced by digital devices?

No. At home there is an enormous amount of information on the web and I can compare field guides as I study. I'm not limited by one device or one source. In the field I study the birds I'm likely to see through my binoculars or scope and watch them, not a book.

On April 17, 2007 at 5:02 PM Brooke said...

1) Probably 12-15, at least. Some are subsequent editions.
2) I learned and grew up with RTP but now I have to say that National Geographic is my favorite, all around. I have them all (Kaufman, Sibley, Peterson)but find the information most helpful in Natl.Geo, although I wish it were just a tad smaller, for the pocket.
3)Photos do not always capture all the distinguishing possibilities, so I suppose I prefer paintings or drawings.
4)Almost always.
5)If I've encountered something confusing I may consult other guides when home.
6)No, to everything there is a season.
BTW -- Love your blog
Brooke (first time responder)

On April 17, 2007 at 5:37 PM Corey said...

1. lots
2. Sibley, then Peterson.
3. Drawings/paintings
4. Only when I'm not on my home turf but, like Patrick, I always have one in my car.
5. Yes, big books stay home.
6. Probably, but only when we all have flying cars and live on the moon (any day now).

On April 17, 2007 at 7:23 PM katdoc said...

1. 10, including 3 British, 1 Western US, and 2 specialty (warblers and shorebirds) Oh - 11; I have a field guide for nests and eggs, too.

2. My Peterson's Eastern, 1980 edition. My favorite because it was my first, because I have tons of notes in it, and because it fits in a pocket. Sibley's is a close second (I have the smaller field edition, not the big, stay-at-home book) and my only complaint is that the order is slightly different than Peterson's and I don't have the pages memorized. Yet.

3. Art, everytime.

4. Yes. The one time I didn't (because the "real" birders I looked up to never did, and told me I was using my guide like a crutch) I saw a Life Bird that I couldn't ID and by the time I got home, I couldn't decide which brown thrush it was. (Hermit)

5. Yes, sometimes. I hate the Audubon guide for ID's but I love the reference section in the back for habitat, behavior, nesting, etc.

6. I hope not. I love books for their essence - the feel of them. Electrons don't give you that same emotional satisfaction as the printed word. Plus, books are cheaper. Maybe some day I will have an electronic toy, but for ease of use and personal comfort, give me a book.


On April 17, 2007 at 7:41 PM Mary said...

1. around a dozen, including my very first dogeared Golden Guide to Birds of America given to me when I was a young girl

2. I keep Sibley's big book in the car, carry Peterson's and All the Birds if with a group for field ID--I got turned on to the All the Birds book by a fellow birder and teacher who uses it with beginners and I agree that it is very helpful to show people differences really quickly

3. drawings show field marks more dramatically

4. only if with students but always have a small sketchbook for

5. yes--many at home references. I also collect old bird books and love to read what birders wrote before so much "science" was instantly available.

6. wow--I'm totally out of touch because I didn't know this was an option. I probably wouldn't carry one since I've done just fine without one so far. I do check things on the computer though so who knows?

On April 17, 2007 at 9:25 PM Su Snyder said...

1. Stopped counting at 20.
2. The big Sibley--shows more plumages.
3. Artwork.
4. Yes, or I make sure my birding companions have one.
5. I carry one of the smaller guides in the field, but use many reference books at home. And keep others in my vehicle.
6. The price is gonna have to come down a whole lot before they will ever replace books. And even then, there will probably always be birders who would rather carry a book.

On April 18, 2007 at 2:39 AM Erik said...

1. 12 on birds. At least another dozen on other topics.

2. National Geographic. I like the Sibley but I like the layout of NGS better with the text on the left page and the birds on the right page. It's easier to flip through. If you're quickly flipping through a small Sibley it's hard to see the birds on the left page.

3. Artwork/paintings.

4. Not all the time. It depends on time of the year and where I'm at, especially when looking for shorebirds and gulls.

5. All the time. I leave a large Sibley in the car and refer to the others at home.

6. I'm a techie but I don't see the PDA replacing the field guide. The book is relatively cheap and disposable. I'd hate to lose/break/water log my PDA. Plus, the screens need to get better in sunlight. My TX is a big improvement over my earlier PDA but the screen still washes out in sunlight.

Keep up the good work on the blog. Any more podcasts anytime soon?

On April 18, 2007 at 5:22 AM Dea said...

1. 2

2. So far, Sibley's Birds of W. N.A.

3. Paintings, because they show the ideal form of the bird and their field marks. But I've never tried a field guide with pics, so really that answer is uninformed. :)

4. Yes

5. Yes - I often go to Cornell website at home to hear a call or song as that is one things field guides simply cannot do justice to.

6. I personally like books. I guess we'll see.

On April 18, 2007 at 7:20 AM RuthieJ said...

1. 9 just for birds (several others for mammals, flowers, & trees)
2. Kaufmann - Like the photos & it fits well in my pocket
3. Photos - colors seems more accurate to me
4. Didn't used to, but have started because I can't always remember details till I get home
5. Sometimes for specific habitat, feeding & nesting info I refer to my Audubon field guide (since I don't have the big Sibley's)
6. Not for me (too expensive plus I tend to drop things alot-books don't break)

On April 18, 2007 at 7:58 AM Anonymous said...

1. 10 or so
2. Sibley (more plumage variations shown) and Peterson East (longer descriptions; smaller size; easier/"friendlier")
3. Artwork
4. No, but try to. Peterson is my FIELD field guide
5. Yes, often go to Sibley first. Then go to my two Ohio guides where the authors share more unique/flavorful tidbits. I use Peterson at home to cross-check.
6. Replaced? No. Will one be available? Yes. IPods are already great for comparing bird sounds and photos in the field.

On April 18, 2007 at 8:54 AM birdchick said...

1. I lost count once I started collecting international guides.

2. Currently, it's the National Geographic Handheld Guide to Birds, it fits in my pocket and I can take it anywhere, plus it has built in bird calls.

3. When I started, I preferred photographic guides. Illustrated guides just did not match the bird's posture (perhaps because illustrators try to show all field marks in one sketch?). Now, I can use both.

4. No.

5. I'll use the Handheld in the Field and consult a Sibley at home.

6. I don't think books will be replaced 100%. You can't get a handheld autographed. I do think that more and more id programs will be made available for handheld devices and iPods. The next generation is much more in tune with technology, they certainly will relate better to a guide in on a pda.

On April 18, 2007 at 9:12 AM Rondeau Ric said...

A quick count got 35 guides plus where to find birds

Petersons, probably becuase it's the one we started with.

Artwork/painting, tends to highlight field marks.

Yes, normally have a guide available. Use after seeing the bird to id or verify.

Yes, use Sibleys and Kaufmans at home, Petersons in the field.

Not in the near future. Books don't crash or have dead batteries.

Bird on dude!

On April 18, 2007 at 9:22 AM Laurie said...

1. 10+ field guides, plus one international
2. National Geographic (fifth edition) because I'm in Texas and I need all the birds, not just eastern or western.
3. I like both for different reasons and use both for comparison.
4. yes
5. I take NG with me in the field plus a specialty guide if I'm in a special location. For instance I take the Stokes Shorebird Guide when in the vicinity of mud flats, a warbler guide when going to the upper Texas coast for spring migration. At home I refer to the field guide companions for ID challenges I may have encountered in the field as well as guides that may have fewer birds but better pics
6. I hope so. I use a Treo smartphone when in the field for many purposes and wouldn't be without it. I would love to be able to integrate a fully functional field guide into it. Even better, I would love to be able to access the Cornell Birds of North America site on a portable device.

On April 18, 2007 at 9:31 AM Liza Lee Miller said...

I'm a birding neophyte but here are my answers:

1. 5 field guides -- a Sibley's Western, a new Peterson's Western, a very old Peterson's Western, a guide to tracks & scat, and a pocket-sized Stokes guide that I keep in my hiking backpack.

2. Sibley's Guide to Western Birds.

3. I prefer illustrations but I often use Google's image search or search Flickr for pictures to supplement the field guide. I think the illustrations can feature points that might get lost on an actual photograph -- if that makes sense. And, that's why I end up using both.

4. No, usually I don't. I take pictures of the birds I see and then ID them at home in front of the computer.

5. No. I almost always use just the Sibley's Western.

6. I don't know that it will completely replace it. I think the BirdJam tool would be amazing along with pictures of the birds in the field. But, in an unfamiliar area with unfamiliar birds, I'd want a book I can flip through.

On April 18, 2007 at 10:00 AM John said...

1. 21 (if you count other taxa and guides to single families)

2. Sibley, for thoroughness and for showing a range of plumages.

3. Definitely artwork.

4. No, in fact usually I do not.

5. Eastern Sibley in the field; big Sibley and specialty guides at home.

6. Not unless the price of PDA guides comes way down.

On April 18, 2007 at 10:18 AM Birdbutch said...

1. I own 8 Field Guides

2. I prefer the National Geographic - probably because it was the first one I owned and am used to its layout.

3. Definitely prefer artwork to photographs.

4. I always take a field guide with me - I keep one in my briefcase at work and always one in my car for emergencies.

5. I sometimes refer to other guides at home just to verify what I saw in the one I used in the field.

6. Yes, I do think as future generations of birders come along that are more accustomed to technology, the PDA style will be the tool of choice.

On April 18, 2007 at 11:20 AM Anonymous said...

1. How many field guides do you own?
Limiting the list to domestic guides that cover all species, and not counting duplicates of the same edition, at least 10.

2. What is your favorite field guide and why?
Sibley, full sized, carried in a shoulder bag, because I need all the help I can get! If I must travel light, Kaufman. But I intend to try out the latest version of the NG guide soon; in past editions NG always had better text than anyone else.

3. Do you prefer field guides illustrated with photographs or with artwork/paintings?
Artwork, but Kaufman is pretty good.

4. Do you always take a field guide with you when you go birding?
Yes. 10% of the time it stays in the car. During warbler season the warbler book - not counted in the total - goes in the bag with Sibley, mostly just for the one page with the underside of the tails.

5. Do you find yourself using one guide in the field but referring to a different guide at home?
My home reference is my original (autographed) Sibley, the other copy os the one I use in the field. But then there are all the group specific books - sparrows, raptors, gulls, and such that mostly stay home except for special trips.

6. Do you think printed (book format) field guides will ever be replaced by digital devices (such as the Handheld Birds PDA that features the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds.)?
Replaced? Not soon for sure.

What I want is to have all the top guides in ONE hand-held device that lets me compare for example everyone's entries on horned and eared grebes in one place, and view them all with one index lookup. Imagine going to the species, then having tabs for each reference "book". THAT is something I would pay for!

Roy Harvey
Beacon Falls, CT

On April 18, 2007 at 11:43 AM Mike said...

1. ten, give or take
2. Sibley Eastern or western, depending on where I am relative to the Old Muddy
3. Definitely portraits over photos
4. Not usually, but I should. I do carry one when I'm in unfamiliar territory
5. Yes, usually the big Sibley
6. Most certainly we'll one day have an electronic field guide fully loaded with photos, pictures, videos, sound files, and encyclopedic entries for every bird you could want. When electronic guides are superior to books, I'll be happy to leave the books at home for reference.

On April 18, 2007 at 2:45 PM Jeff MacLeod said...

1. None, only the large Sibley Guide.

2. I would probably go for the Sibley Field guide because I like his illustrations, but I haven't looked into it much.

3. I was new to studying bird species when I bought the Sibley guide 1.5yrs ago. I found the photographs more confusing than the drawings at first, as the drawings did a better job emphasizing differences between species. The best angle can always be captured in a drawing, but not in a photograph. Also, sometimes the photo guides don't have pictures both sexes/juveniles, all morphs, etc. That said, I do enjoy having a photo guide to look at now that I am more familiar with most species.

4. Only if I know I am going somewhere where I will see a large number of unfamiliar species. I suppose this could be the case becuase I only own the big sibley guide. However, I tend to just study the night before I go so I don't have to lug a book around.

5. I only have one!

6. Not replaced by them, but certainly supplemented by them.

On April 18, 2007 at 3:36 PM Bill Fisk said...

1. 9+
2. Kaufman and Nat Geo
3. Take them both
4. Always
5. Yes, I have the big ones at home
6. Have never tried one.

On April 18, 2007 at 4:32 PM Mary Ann Melton said...

1. 5-7 bird guides

2. Mix between Sibleys and National Geographic

3. I've tended to prefer actual photographs - but I like Sibleys for those harder to identify birds.

4. Usually I take some kind of guide, occasionally I get off without one . . . and then wish I had it along.

5. I do use several books - I've found that sometimes it is useful to confer with several books- partly because each book may have a slightly different mix of birds - so that a bird I've seen may be listed in one field guide and not another. Or the photo or drawing is better in one than another.

6. That one is hard to guess. I think I prefer a book whose page I can flip through to find the bird I'm looking for. I like the mix of books I have - one set puts birds that look alike together rather than by the bird family they are in. That has been helpful to me. Perhaps a PDA bird guide could have several settings . . . one for bird families and one for putting similar birds together for comparison. But sometimes it is nice to flip back and forth to compare for those fine details . . . I suspect that would be harder to do on a small PDA.

On April 18, 2007 at 6:37 PM Drew said...

1. ~13 for North America

2. For general birding, Sibleys because it not only gets the field marks right, but the feel of the birds as well.

3. As my skills are increasing, I prefer drawings over pictures.

4. Depends what kind of birding, for gulls and shorebirds I always do. For songbirds, not so much anymore.

5. Nope, always the big Sibleys.

6. Maybe eventually, but they are still like toys the quality is so low.

On April 18, 2007 at 7:20 PM The Zen Birdfeeder said...

1. 10 true "field" guides to the birds.

2. Peterson because of drawings vs. photographs. Also like Budliger/Kennedy's Birds of NY State because of narrative about each species.

3. See response to #2.

4. Try to.

5. Yes, use flexibound Peterson in the field, gain additional perspective from other guides at home.

6. No. As dependent as I am on my PDA, I don't see ever using it's smaller format to replace a guide book.

On April 18, 2007 at 7:27 PM tom wood said...

1. How many field guides do you own?
More than 20 bird guides.

2. What is your favorite field guide and why?

Along with the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds, I use the Sibley Guides. Like the tabs and index of new edition of Nat Geo.

3. Do you prefer field guides illustrated with photographs or with artwork/paintings?

Generally artwork.

4. Do you always take a field guide with you when you go birding?

No, not always.

5. Do you find yourself using one guide in the field but referring to a different guide at home?

Little Siblito in the field, giant Sibzilla at home, as well as other specialty guides (Kaufmann et al)

6. Do you think printed (book format) field guides will ever be replaced by digital devices (such as the Handheld Birds PDA that features the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds.)?

The potential is exciting, but I don't think it will ever replace books.

On April 18, 2007 at 8:49 PM LugerLA said...

1. 5 + some international

2. Peterson's, because it focuses on my part of the country and I like the pictures. Big Sibley when I get home.

3. Drawings, better job of showing what details are important for ID

4. Most of the time.

5. Yes. I have a couple that are too big to carry for more pictures for comparison.

6. No. Paper is good when you have to flip around to compare (or you really don't know what you are looking at, as happens to me regularly)

On April 18, 2007 at 9:48 PM akeeyu said...

1. How many? Six, although two are duplicates because we prefer to have the same edition in both my and my husband's car.

2. National Geographic because of the detailed illustrations of sexes, ages, morphs.

3. Artwork is the best.

4. Usually. If we don't, it's because we forgot it.

5. Yes, sometimes at home we use NG's 'Complete' version or a websites to identify calls.

6. I hope not. I like the books.

On April 19, 2007 at 1:17 AM Lisa Kohler said...

1. About 5

2. Sibley Guide to Birds of Western North America, because it is small, concise, and still manages to show lots of different plumages (perched/standing and in-flight)

3. Artwork, all the way

4. No, I typically have my camera and ID from the pictures later

5. Before I had my camera, I would. Sometimes if I had an equivocal ID, I would consult different guides for a slightly different take

6. Eventually, yes. But not for a while.

This is very interesting, thanks for asking!

On April 19, 2007 at 11:28 AM Born Again Bird Watcher said...

1. The last count yielded 23 true field guides and excluded dozens of other works too large for carrying into the field.

2. I seem to always fall back to Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. It was my first and still my favorite for its ease of use and enjoyable, literate descriptions.

3. Paintings – photos are too varied and may not always show the area of the bird that is of most import to the situational need.

4. No, not always; probably about 75% of the time.

5. Not so much referring to a different guide but to larger reference books.

6. Right now the expense of the electronic versions is prohibitive. I also don’t like to put my complete trust in anything electronic (ironic for a blogger, no?). I think the electronic models will continue to gain popularity as the prices decrease but I don’t think they’ll ever truly replace printed guides.

On April 19, 2007 at 3:41 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks to all who responded to this informal survey. I find the diverse answers incredibly interesting.

I have some other informal surveys to pose in the future and I hope you'll participate in those, too.

Muchas gracias!


On April 19, 2007 at 4:17 PM Anonymous said...


2.Early's specific i.e. Warblers
Many pics,cheat-sheets.
Also take Sibly's East, Judy has
Nat. Geo.



5.Only on rare occasions.

6.Yes, but like the combustion
engine, over a long period of


On April 20, 2007 at 7:32 PM Paul said...

1. I own three.
2. I find the small Sibley the nicest combination of completeness and portability.
3. Paintings.
4. Always.
5. Yes, and internet resources after I get home as well.
6. I really don't think so, mostly because of screen visibility in sunlight, difficulty operating buttons in the cold and the hassle of anything battery-powered.

On April 20, 2007 at 9:47 PM janet said...

1. 4 North America + 5 international = 9

2. National Geographic -- best depiction of all stages of gull plumages.

3. Artwork/paintings by far.

4. Real birders don't carry field guides in the field :-) I keep mine in the car lest the massbird.org people see me looking at it in the field.

5. National Geographic in the field. Big Sibley at home.

6. No. The book is the killer app for field identification. A gull can drop it from great height and take a bite out of it and it's still usable. Plus you can read it in bright sunlight without glare and all that stuff that makes handhelds hard to read.

On April 21, 2007 at 12:26 AM Treesie said...

I think I own 5 field guides now. I'm a pretty frugal person and don't mean to accumulate a lot of "stuff" but somehow I just "needed" another and another... My favorite field guide is David Sibley's. Before that it was National Geographic's. The problem with Sibley's is that I need a "birding caddy" to carry it for me. (I actually got a non-birder friend to do that for me once. My mistake was then loaning him an extra pair of binoculars. He put down the Sibley's and started looking at birds. I've never convinced him to go back to "caddying" for me since then!)To tell the truth, I've never found a field guide that was light enough to actually carry it in the field - maybe a few times when I was first starting, but now I leave it in the car and make notes or sketches to help remember what I want to double-check. I prefer field guides with artwork rather than photos. Individual birds are too quirky and lighting is too iffy to find any one photo of a bird that is "typical." Now, here's my real confession. I just bought NG's Handheld Birds a couple days ago. Yes, it is amazingly cool, but I gotta say I'm having severe buyer's remorse - for me it is hard to feel okay about spending that kind of money on something so totally unnecessary. The biggest reason why I bought it is to help me with bird calls in the field, and I'm sure it will. But, for me, it will never replace a field guide for visual ID of anything but the most obvious field marks - although the screen is big and bright for a handheld device, it is far inferior to any printed guide. I'm sure I'll carry it more in the field than I do a printed field guide, but as soon as I get back to the car, I'll grab the Sibley's.

On April 23, 2007 at 10:41 AM dguzman said...

1. So far, five North Americas and one World.

2. I really like my Stokes because of the color photos, but I'm always looking for something more. I have a very old Peterson's that I really like as well, with drawings.

3. Definitely photographs; for a beginner like me they're invaluable.

4. Yes, at least one--usually Stokes and your Identify Yourself.

5. Yes; I use the Stokes to get a general idea, and then I confirm back home with all the other ones.

6. Nope. But then I'm an English major who has always maintained that books will always be around.

Thanks, Hotdog Brother!

On April 23, 2007 at 3:16 PM Anonymous said...

1. 4

2. I'm somewhat of a beginner, and prefer the Kaufmann's over the Sibley's. I badly need the realism of the slightly-doctored photos, and it does a good job highlighting distinctive field marks and possible comparisons. Also well-organized. I can see how one would progress to Sibley's, but in the short term I have found it more useful to actually regress to my Audubon guide, just because it includes only fairly-likely birds and is easy to flip through in the field.

3. Photos for now; see above -- need the realism and posture cues.

4. yes

5. yes, mostly just for double-checking and confirming.

6. dunno. i'd be most likely to use something to help with songs, not visuals, i think. songs are harder for me to remember, and also hard to write down a description to look up later. plus at least for me, the field guide's written song descriptions just don't get me there.

On April 24, 2007 at 3:48 AM Jennifer said...

1. one (but at work we have them all)

2. I like sibley's

3. definitely artwork

4. No (read my "Confessions of a Reluctant Birder" on my blog).

5. No.

6. possibly. what with cell phones that can deliver weather forecasts, gps units, etc... why not an electronic guide.

I work at an Audubon center. We often get email questions, often with a digital picture attached... Usually I know the bird. If I'm only 90% sure, I look it up in Sibley's. Then I send them a link to cornell's online information for that bird.