Field Guides to Birds
Several trips through the Horicon Marsh in the past week revealed the Trumpeter Swan cygnets are growing in elegance with gray feathers accented with pink bills. Petite Pied-billed Grebe chicks lazily float in the water along the auto tour. A Ring-billed Gull plays with a fish before downing it in one gulp. All the photos turned out meh. So, I thought we would chat about field guides to birds.
Let’s take an inside look at seven commonly used guides. Over 200,000 Canada Geese migrate through the Horicon Marsh each year. What information does each guide provide about this ubiquitous marsh bird?
The American Museum of Natural History Birds of North America: Eastern Region includes over 450 photos of birds perched, standing, or swimming. Photos of variations between juveniles and adults and between male and female adults, are included where differences occur. A seasonal map clues us in on whether we can expect to see this bird at the Marsh. The bottom of the page has space to write in the date and place of sightings. A feature I especially like about this guide is the similar species section. Photos of other birds that may be easily confused with a Canada Goose, like the Greater White-Fronted Goose or the Cackling Goose are shown with differences in field marks highlighted. Nesting, feeding, bird length, and weight contribute to the usefulness of this guide. I use this guide often.
Sibley Birds East is David Allen Sibley’s field guide to birds. This guide includes drawings and brief notations about field marks. Drawings of variants and a map are included. Written information is brief.
Donald and Lillian Stokes include a number of photos for each species with variations noted. The text is primarily information on field marks and includes subspecies and hybrids. They also include a map.
Roger Tory Peterson includes a few basic paintings of each bird. Several species are on each page. The text includes information about similar species and habitat. A map of occurrence is included. Larger maps and a life list checklist are provided in the back of the book.
In Chris G. Earley’s Waterfowl of Eastern North America, each bird gets a generous two page spread. There are several photos of each bird in its natural environment with information about adults, eclipse males, and juveniles. A pithy quote adds to the enjoyment in reading this guide. “‘What man so busy that he will not pause and look upward at the serried ranks of our grandest wildfowl…a harbinger of spring or a foreboding of winter. Certainly the Canada goose commands respect.’ This was written by Arthur Cleveland Bend in 1925.” Similar species are listed. Nature notes from Earley provide interesting facts you won’t find in other guides. For instance, “Canada Geese once showed the widest range of size and shape differences of any bird species in the world.” The back of the book has comparison pages grouping similar birds on a single page for quick reference. Earley has other guides including Sparrows and Finches, Warblers, and Hawks and Owls available at Firefly Books.
Stan Tekiela’s handy little field guide is packed with information in a small volume. There are several photos of each of the 111 common Wisconsin species in the book. Species are grouped according to their most prominent color. He lists information about nesting, eggs, incubation time, fledging, migration, and food. In a “Stan’s Notes” section we learn about the bird’s behavior and conservation. “Eliminated from the state in the 1900s. Reintroduced in federal refuges in the 1930s and to local and state lands in the 1960-70s.” An essential fact is, “will hiss as if to display displeasure.” If you have moved too close to a Canada goose when its goslings are nearby, you will have experienced its “displeasure.” The compact size of this guide makes it easy to carry with you. Other guides by Stan Tekiela include Trees of Wisconsin and Wildflowers of Wisconsin.
The National Audubon Society guide has one photo of each bird and includes 508 species. An icon along the side of the page displays bird shapes and colors to aid in identification. Written information is separate from the photos which makes it more cumbersome to use.
Text includes descriptions of the bird, its voice, habitat, nesting, and range. Helpful notes at the end elaborate on bird behavior. “When people speak of ‘wild geese,’ it is generally this familiar species they have in mind. Their V-shaped migrating flocks are a common sight in spring and fall.”
You might be wondering what is the difference between the Sibley field guide and the larger Sibley Guide to Birds?
The Sibley Guide to Birds, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, contains some of the same drawings as Sibley Birds East. There are additional drawings of subspecies with brief notes on field marks. Maps for the subspecies are included. I use The Sibley Guide to Birds when I am having difficulty identifying a bird and I want to compare a photo I’ve taken with illustrations in this guide.
You will find some of these guides in the gift shops at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center located on Highway Z or the Education and Visitors Center for the State Wildlife Area located on Highway 28. Do you have a favorite field guide to birds? Share your insights in the comments section.