Field Guides for Bird Watching
You can watch birds without the help of binoculars and telescopes. Garden birds especially will probably come close enough to enable you to identify them without these aids but unless you have an identification book you cannot satisfy that inquisitive desire that all good naturalists should have, to give a bird its correct name.
As its name suggests a field guide is an identification book that is small enough to carry and refer to in the field. This practice must be followed with care, however, and it is often best to write down a complete description of a bird that is unknown to you, and which could be rare, before you look it up. Otherwise your description may be biased by what you have read. Most of the field guides concentrate on giving only the essential information needed to identify birds in the field and only give the minimum of information about the birds’ habitat, song and behaviour. There are plenty of books to choose from but your choice will probably be from the following four.
The RSPB Guide to British Birds, written by David Saunders with paintings by Noel Cusa and published by Hamlyn, is specifically designed for beginners and contains descriptions of only 218 common species of the 500 or so that live in or visit Britain. The advantage of having only a limited number of species to choose from is that the beginner is less likely to be confused by a wide variety of less common birds. However, it is inevitable that once the first stages of identification have been passed and more exotic places are visited that one of three field guides used by birdwatchers all over Europe, will be required. Each of the three has its advantages and disadvantages. None of them is entirely perfect, and with regard to the standard of illustrations, each has its good points and bad points. They are described in alphabetical order of the senior author’s name.
The Hamlyn Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, written by Bertel Bruun and illustrated by Arthur Singer and published by Hamlyn, describes and pictures in colour 530 birds which you are likely to find in Europe as bordered by the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, the Ural River and Mountains and the Arctic Ocean. The advantage of this book is that the illustrations are opposite the text so that you do not have to change about over two or even more pages to find out all the relevant information and illustration about the bird. T
The second book is The Birds of Britain and Europe, North Africa and the Middle East which is written by Richard Fitter and John Parslow, illustrated by Herman Heinzel and published by Collins. Like the Hamlyn guide, the pictures and text face each other which makes for considerable ease of use. This guide includes all the birds which breed in or visit regularly any part of Europe, north Africa south to a line drawn east from south Morocco and the Middle East to the Persian Gulf and then more or less due north to the Arctic Ocean. It covers a bigger area than any of the other guides and can be of considerable value in countries on the edge of and just outside its defined area. Therefore it is very useful for the traveller, but the large number of species depicted can confuse the beginner in Central Europe.
The third book is the Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson, with text by Guy Mountfort and Philip Hollom, published by Collins. Its major disadvantage is that the text is on a different page from the pictures so that you have to look up at least two pages in the book and sometimes as many as four to get all the information required. This is the older of the modern field guides. Its great advantage is that it has been revised three times and consequently contains very few errors. Furthermore, it is the one guide from which you should be able to identify the bird from the text as well as the illustration. There are other field guides but I think that the ones I have mentioned are amongst the best for the accuracy of illustrations and text. However, there are many other books which specialize in the identification of specific groups of birds.
- Book Review: The Bird Photography Field Guide (pixiq.com)