Field Guide, Buy One, Know It

During my weekly 15 minute Facebook visit I notice there’s always someone asking for ID help. I know this has been brought up on every bird forum and listserv ever, but why don’t people offer a guess to the species? And why they think it’s that species. I have six words for those people – Field Guide, Buy One, Know It.

They might answer they rely on an on-line or electronic guide. But the problem is it’s tough to compare similar species. To all those people I recommend getting a good field. And learn it.

How well do you know your field guide?

My main field guide over the years.

Here is a test.

Hold your field guide in your hand. Get your phone stopwatch ready.

How long does it take to find European Starling?

Now try again with Barn Owl?

And Barn Swallow?

I choice those species because they’re in almost every field guide.

Buy One

Here are my times for the following field guides (minutes and seconds):

Sibley Eastern NA Birds of Europe Birds of East Asia
European Starling 8 1:42 18
Barn Owl 10 14 24
Barn Swallow 8 49 6

As seen I know my Sibley Eastern guide. I don’t know the Birds of Europe. And sort of know Birds of East Asia. The reasons:

  1. I’ve used the Sibley Eastern guide for years and know it.
  2. I obviously don’t know the arrangement of families of the Western Palearctic – Old World Warblers and the like. Starling is farther back than I expected, and they are not with Bulbuls.
  3. The Birds of East Asia was published in 2009 and follows the taxonomic order I’ve used. But would I know where the Babblers are located? Nope.

The point isn’t about speed but knowing your field guide.

The speed part demonstrates a good feel on where species are located.

Back to the Facebook point. A little study starting with the Families listing at the field guide’s beginning will pay dividends.

A side note. I’m beginning to support field guides being sorted by color and habitat. With the changes to the taxonomy order and more coming, I’m not sure using taxonomic order is the right thing.

2 Replies to “Field Guide, Buy One, Know It”

  1. Books are not what people use to get information these days. The internet is the answer to all questions, and is being replaced slowly with artificial intelligence like Siri, Google Assistant, and in the bird world, Merlin apps. Why buy and store a book when you can just use your phone.

  2. I have gotten out of the habit of bringing a guide with me into the field, and I use my Sibley to be proactive rather than reactive. Browsing birds before bed, especially during migration, is a way for me to get back in shape. Whereas if I am in the field, I use an app like the Audubon guide to confirm or reject whatever my gut impression is. Then if I am still unsure of a bird but get enough field marks to write down, I reference the book when I get home.

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