Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Best Shorebird Field Guides

It's that time of year again, the shorebirds are migrating back south through the United States from their breeding grounds.  So, I put together a "Top 5" list of what are, in my opinion, the best field guides to use for identifying shorebirds.  For more information on each book or to buy one of the books, click it to follow to Amazon.

1.   The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson is by far and away the shorebird guide for North America that I reach for first.  This guide provides the most comprehensive set of images to identify practically any shorebird species you have a chance at seeing in the US.  The best feature is the comparison pages that provide side-by-side photographs of similar species to help differentiate between similar plumages, body structure, flight pattern, etc. Another nice feature is that some pictures are left unlabeled so the viewer can have a chance to try their hand at identifying the shorebirds in the picture.  Then you can check the back of the book to see if you are on track.  Another great feature is the amount of flight photographs that are included.  Many shorebirds in a flock are easier to pick out while in flight rather than while resting so this feature comes in handy.  I would highly recommend this guide if you are trying to learn to identify the shorebirds of the US.

2.   Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia:  A Photographic Guide is a great compliment to The Shorebird Guide with its more than 850 color photos.  This is a great guide if you want to learn how to identify species not only in the United States but around the world.  Most shorebirds have long migrations so are commonly found well off course; this guide will show you all of the options that the bird you are looking at could be.  Of course it is good to have an understanding of identifying the commonly occurring shorebirds before using this guide.  This guide along with the others also include descriptions of behavior which comes in handy when identifying most species.

3.   Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia:  A Guide to Field Identification is a useful guide if you like drawings of birds instead of photographs.  It is also set up quite a bit differently than the first two guides.  One section includes all of the shorebirds in standing/resting poses.  The next section includes all of the shorebirds in flight which creates some nice opportunities for comparisons but makes it a better reference than a field guide.  In the field it isn't easy to flip back and forth between the two sections when trying to identify one bird.

4.  Shorebirds of North America by Dennis Paulson is a great option if you want a more basic guide that won't overwhelm you.  It provides short species accounts with various pictures of different plumages from each species.  It doesn't have as many photos of each species as the first three guides but it does provide a nice overview of each species.

5.  I would also suggest looking through a regular field guide to get a basic understanding of the identification of the regularly occurring shorebirds in your area.  For this, The Sibley Guide to Birds does the trick for anyone in the United States.  It only shows the more commonly occuring shorebirds in the US but these are some of the most realistic illustrations that you could ask for and will quickly improve your shorebird identification skills.

Watch for some shorebird identification posts in the next week!

-Eric

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