Field guides top birdwatcher’s

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Christmas wish list

Although the biggest shopping day of the year has come and gone, you may still be at a loss for gift ideas. If someone on your list is interested in birds or is looking for an enjoyable hobby, a field guide to birds would be a great gift.

Birdwatching is a lot more fun if you can identify the species you are observing. The more birds you learn to recognize the easier identification becomes.

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When learning to identify birds, a good field guide is an essential tool.

There are many books on the market with beautiful pictures of birds, but those are best used for the coffee table. A field guide is designed specifically to assist in identification. Many of these books are small so they can be taken along in a backpack or pocket when you birdwatch.

Most beginning birders find identification to be much easier with a field guide that illustrates with drawings rather than with photographs.

A field guide will have a full color illustration of each bird along with a description that includes its overall size, bill color and shape, wing shape and size and identifying marks.

There also will be a brief description of habitat, a map showing seasonal ranges with migration routes and a discussion of songs and calls.

Three field guides are highly recommended:

Roger Tory Peterson published his first field guide in 1934 and thus set the standard for bird books. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company, the most recent edition of Peterson’s book is "A Field Guide to the Birds: A Completely New Guide to all the Birds of Eastern and Central North America."

Range maps are found at the back of this book.

Like Peterson, Donald W. and Lillian Q. Stokes have used a regional approach in their book "Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region," which is published by Little Brown and Company.

A regional guide like these is less confusing for beginning birders than one covering an entire country or continent.

A favorite of many birders is National Geographic’s "Field Guide to Birds of North America." It is readable and has excellent descriptions. The range map for each bird is placed on the page facing its illustration.

Published by Golden Press, "A Guide to Fields Identification:Birds of North America" also places its range maps on the pages opposite the illustrations. This compact guide is portable and fits easily into a pocket.

Before purchasing one of these or another field guide, leaf through the pages in the bookstore to find the one that appeals to you.

Also look at the guide with an eye to quality. A book in which pages have been stitched together before the binding is glued on will hold up best.

Always buy the very latest edition , since the material in a field guide is constantly being revised and updated.