For the Birds: New Bird Books for Beginning Birders
The spring migration is perhaps the most exciting time of year for North American birders. After a long Maine winter, the sounds of the first Eastern Phoebes and Red-winged Blackbirds and the sights of colorful warblers hold the promise of a glorious Maine summer. There is nothing like a spring birding excursion to hook a novice on birding.
Two books geared for beginner birders have recently appeared. One is meant for adults and one for kids. I’ll review the two books in today’s column. Perhaps, you have a friend or family member who might appreciate a copy of one of these books.
Finding Your Wings, written by Burton Guttman, is a different kind of book in the Peterson Field Guide series. This book is really a workbook designed to help a person new to birding to learn how to really look at birds how to identify them. Along the way, a diligent user of Finding Your Wings will learn much about bird behavior, classification and the etiquette of birding.
This workbook is designed to be used in conjunction with a field guide of North American birds. The workbook is specifically written to accompany either Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America or A Field Guide to Western Birds. However, any North America field guide can be used in conjunction with Finding Your Wings.
The workbook begins with basic principles and skills of birding, continuing with an overview of the major bird orders and then more detailed descriptions of the topography of birds. Other chapters deal with molting, identifying birds in flight and learning to identify birds by their songs or calls. The book concludes with six chapters on groups of birds that pose particularly challenging identification problems. Bird groups covered include hawks, shorebirds, gulls and sparrows.
The content of the book sounds like standard fare for a birding book. The unusual, and I think innovative, aspect of Finding Your Wings is the activities and quizzes that fill the book. Doing the activities and taking the quizzes is key to getting the most out of the workbook.
Four kinds of activities are used in the workbook. Indoor Exercises require the reader to refer to a picture provided or pictures in a field guide to answer questions. A reader might be asked to look at the account for a Clay-colored Sparrow and then write down a description of the head of the bird. In so doing, the reader would learn the names of distinctive markings like the supercilium, auricular stripe and malar stripe. Answers are provided at the end of the book.
Field Exercises require the beginning birder to make observations in the field, such as determining the wing beat rate of different birds. Quizzes allow readers to test their knowledge gained from the Indoor and Field Exercises. Finally, several Games are described that are great for social learning.
The second book, also in the Peterson Field Guide series, is called The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America by Bill Thompson III. This field guide was developed with the advice of Thompson’s 11-year old daughter and other members of her fifth-grade class. The field guide is designed to be used by kids on their own.
The field guide begins with the usual generic information on birding: binoculars, bird morphology, field guides, birding clothing. One section seeks to convince youngsters that birding is cool and that they should not be self-conscious about going birding.
The bulk of the book is the description of 200 species of common birds found in eastern North America. A page is devoted to each species. Of course, the amount of text one expects in a typical field guide is reduced in this “for kids” guide. Each page has one or two color photographs and a range map, covering all of North America. A line drawing is provided for each species, showing some interesting behavior. For instance, the drawing of the Hermit Thrush shows the distinctive behavior of these birds in raising the tail rapidly and then slowly letting it fall to a normal position. Each species account has five text sections. Look For provides brief information on the characteristics used to identify the species and Listen For gives a description of the vocalizations. The Remember section is used to emphasize distinctive identification features or behaviors. Find It describes the habitat of each species. Finally, a WOW! section describes a neat feature of a species such as the courtship flight of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher or 1800-mile non-stop migratory flight of Brant.
[Originally published on May 3, 2008]