09 July 2008

Smithsonian a Complete Guide to Bird Identification

Example of a bird parts diagram included with the Smithsonian field guide.

When hiking in search of another look at some wild birds, through the decades a wide variety of guides have been used to identify the different species among the habitats.

Colorful and lively, the birds have been known and classified in many ways, at different times of history. Rock sketches were used to denote species during the Indian times on the great prairies. In North America, the diversity of species, with some variation in the clues provided for identification, started with detailed descriptions. There were always tips about their natural habits. Cultural changes and improvements brought along illustrations, first in black-and-white, then color, and then more recently, steadily suitable photographs. Then sound could be captured and was added to the mix of important tools for bird identification.

The evolution of the effective guide to bird identification has now achieved a new pinnacle in providing a complete guide which includes some essential avian sounds. The field guide is a single source to see and hear the essentials for learning to identify wild birds.

The Smithsonian Guide to the Birds of North America has pictorial illustrations, a natural history summation, the requisite maps, guides to featheration patterns and related miscellany. An outstanding feature is the disc with a 587 songs, calls and notes in a ready-to use format.

Author Ted Floyd was assisted by a whole cadre to publish this 500+ pages guide to the more than 750 species present northward from southern Mexico. Floyd's comments for each species, tend to be a general nature. There are only a few brief sentences given as a message of the times for the species. A numeric conservation status code is provided - important for knowing one's status - based on the latest details determined by bird conservationists. A quick index is provided inside the back page.

Taxonomy has been updated to match the elusive standard of the year. The colored maps - though a bit small - well represent the range. A general overview is also provided for the species order or family group.

An example of a species account page in the field guide.

A picture, or several - there are 2,000 - depict a particular species. The variety is a grand show of live birds captured somewhere in the nation, yet shown with a sense of liveliness. A pinnacle in photography is obvious in the imagery of the birds, with the variety capturing many of the scenes appreciated by birders that would find the guide useful.

A color option for the top of the pages is an improvement in pagination. This readily shows the pages for the particular order or family group in a matching color. A font a bit darker would have improved readability.

Having depicted illustrations could have been useful for showing the variations of hawk plumages, or as an assist in seeing a comparative group of gulls. A useful item typical for older guides, but not used with this update - and some other modern guides - are those pointers useful to point-out key identification features, perhaps even referencing a bit of behaviour typical for a shorebird or thrush.

Not the least of the features, the disc is an essential addition for learning about birds through their sounds. The audio addition is a distinct feature among modern guides. The birdsong DVD is setup for easy identification of tracks, readily apparent in the file name, and includes a picture to help with recognition of the species. This is another bunch of imagery to appreciate.

There are often several sound variations for each of the 138 species included. The files can be readily downloaded to versions a few modern, portable media players.

Enjoy browsing and learning with the complete and useful Smithsonian guide for your next outing to see the birds.

Find out more about the Smithsonian Guide to the Birds of North America...
Bird songs
About the book
About Ted Floyd

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