Have you read your Field Guide Cover to Cover?

After writing about the release of Sibley’s second edition last week, I started to write a post about how many birding books someone really needs, and that got me thinking about how I really use a field guide or any book on bird in particular.

This all really started a few months ago with the release of The Warbler Guide Song and Call Companion by Tom Stephenson. The book came out to great reviews and really looked like a great book to get. I was all set to buy when I started thinking, wait, I have numerous field guides that contain sections on warblers and I even own a specialty book on warblers.  What am I going to get out of buying another book on warblers? Well I really don’t know since I haven’t read any of them thoroughly!

That’s right, if I really think about it, I haven’t read and studied any of the books thoroughly. And I bet I am not alone on this.  If others are like me they scan the introduction and then read the parts they need when they need them.  Like when I am getting ready for migration I scan the parts on vireos and warblers, for example.  If I am going on an out of state trip I read about species native to those areas.  But to have sat down and read the book from cover to cover like a good novel? Nope, haven’t done it.

And I bet if I took the time to sit and read and study a field guide from cover-to-cover, and I mean really read and study, and then read Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Book Companion the same way, I think it would answer most of the questions I have about birds and birding.

Do I need the specialty books outside the fact I like to read about birds and birding? Probably if I decide to become a gull addict. But outside of that, probably not need, but still want.

In case you forgot what the cover of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America looked like, here is a picture of my worn copy.
In case you forgot what the cover of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America looked like, here is a picture of my worn copy.

So I challenge myself to read my The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America from cover-to-cover. All 431 pages. I will let you know how it goes and what I find out.

How do you read/use a field guide?


4 Replies to “Have you read your Field Guide Cover to Cover?”

  1. My Sibley looks a lot like yours. It’s my constant companion, where I go it goes. Especially this time of year. I still have to have it to help with identification.

    I have been seeing so many shorebirds along Flat Rock River on my way to work. The problem is they all look alike. I know the Yellow Legs and the Spotted for sure, but I have trouble with the others. I bought Pete Dunn’s book and love it has helped a lot. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Doyt and I are going to Atterbury on the way home from the doctor. We were there and got the Loon and Rusty Black Bird. I have just been obsessed this year. My job keeps interfering. My list is still not high.

    Thanks for telling me about the pond behind Main Source. I got a Tundra Swan on Wednesday. There are always ducks.

    Happy birding!

    1. Glad you got the Swan. I was going to go but something came up at home. And that darn work always gets in the way of birding!

      I haven’t seen as many Rusty Blackbirds this year. Maybe I haven’t been in the right spots.

      I will have to learn about the Flat Rock shorebird site. Shorebird sites are few and far between in this part of the world, so knowing one more is a good thing. Learning shorebirds takes time and really studying them since we don’t get to see many around here.

      Off to chase Rails at Atterbury (a long shot) and then to Laura Hare Preserve again.

      Thanks for replying,


  2. I own a few field guides, both general and specialty. The only specialty guide I have is The Shorebird Guide because those identifications can be quite challenging, and I want to learn all that I can about them. I should also do the same with my Sibley’s, since I’ve only used it as a quick reference out in the field.

    1. That’s a good way of putting it, as a quick reference. That is what I have done for years without really studying it. I started studying Sibley’s last week and probably have learned more about loons (first section) than I ever did. The Shorebird Guide is a good specialty book. I spent one summer when the water levels were low studying shorebirds and using The Shorebird Guide. Again as a reference instead of really studying it. Never to late to learn so I will keep at it.

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