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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL ADDITION TO MY BIRD LIBRARY
While I certainly do not consider myself an expert birder, I have been active in this wonderful pastime for around fifty years now. I do spend quite a lot of time in the field and my wife and I do travel quite a lot, she perusing her interests and mine. My first field guide was the old Roger Tory Peterson publication; actually it was the 1941 edition, which I still...
Published on July 23, 2008 by D. Blankenship

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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good field guide but DON'T BUY THIS BOOK FOR THE DVD!
I'll admit that I did buy it partially for the DVD and that's a major disappointment. Though it contains 587 files, they cover only 138 birds, and the selection of the birds is suspect at best. Including species such as American Robin, European Starling and House sparrow is just a waste. Also, many of the individual tracks are nesting sounds, etc. which are useless to...
Published on July 21, 2008 by Donald Morgan


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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL ADDITION TO MY BIRD LIBRARY, July 23, 2008
This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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While I certainly do not consider myself an expert birder, I have been active in this wonderful pastime for around fifty years now. I do spend quite a lot of time in the field and my wife and I do travel quite a lot, she perusing her interests and mine. My first field guide was the old Roger Tory Peterson publication; actually it was the 1941 edition, which I still have. My goodness, we have come along way.

This new Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds is an absolute delight to use and a delight to the eye and ear. It is a rather large and heavy book, quite a lot larger than your average guide and weighs probably close to two pounds. This may not seem like much on a short stroll through the park, but it is of major consideration when spending day after day in the field, much of it walking. That cannot be helped though, as the size is indeed needed to record the plethora of information found between its covers. The book is well bound, which is very important. I have had more than one guide over the years that I have completely destroyed simply from over use and dragging in through the bush. I must admit that I have not had this particular book long enough to truly abuse it, but I suspect that it will hold up better than most. A day or two crouching in a swamp should tell that tale.

The book is arranged in order of families and not color or general habitat, which may take some getting use to for the beginning birder. This is really of minor concern though and of little moment. Each species addressed in this book is covered by some of the best bird photographs I have seen in any field guide at any time. In most cases we get a photograph of the female, male and juvenile. In addition, when appropriate there is a photo of the bird in molt and out. All of these photographs are of top quality. There is a range map provided with each species which covers breeding, winter, year-round, migration and rare ranges. This is most useful. As another reviewer pointed out, we are in a very dynamic period of flux at this time and some bird ranges are going through drastic changes. A current range map is quite necessary and this work provides that. Information given on each species includes measurements and average weights, molt periods, differences between mature and adult birds, geographic variations, if any and a nice written example of their call, which I find most accurate. Many of the photographs feature the bird in both flight (very helpful) and setting. Both the common name and the scientific name are given. Each bird is given its ABA Code for each area, again, most useful.

There is a nicely written and informative introduction to each family of birds. There are many little side notes of interest sprinkled here and there throughout the book addressing particular problems of identification of particular birds. Of course there is the DVD which includes 587 recordings and is completely down loadable. This is a very nice DVD and the quality is great. Now there are only 138 species of birds represented on this DVD which may be a problem for some. Personally, even after all these years, I still have problems identifying even 50 birds by their call, but then I have a tin ear for such things. Other reviews have noted, as does the book, that these songs are down loadable to a MP3 Player. To be quite frank, I have not a clued what an MP3 is, so I will take their word for it.

I do highly recommend this work. I must say though that I would strongly suggest you have a couple of other field guides stuck in your pack. No one book will fill all of your needs as to identification. I still lug around a copy of Peterson's guide (a more current copy than the 1941 edition I mentioned) and still find it quite useful. I personally like bird drawings to supplement bird photographs as I find having the two make identification much easier. This is particularly true with shore birds. The only complaint I have with this particular book, and it is a very minor complaint and is more my problem than that of the book, is that I wish the shade of ink used could have been darker. The light color with the thin font is rather difficult for me to read in dim light. This is just me though, and perhaps younger eyes will have no problems. All in all though, this is an outstanding guide and I do not see how you could possibly go wrong with it.

D. Blankenship
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent North American photographic field guide, June 2, 2008
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This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
As a companion to the better artwork illustated field guides such as National Geographic's, Sibley's or Peterson's, this photographic guide is a very worthwhile addition. It is the proper field-size and covers the important identification points, excellent up-to-date maps, interesting sidebars of relevant information, sizes in inches and weight in pounds and ounces (tired metric measurements?), brief summary of voice and an excellent included DVD with 587 downloadable birdsongs.

All photos are excellent and usefully descriptive by sex and age or seasonal plumage and important subspecies. Highly recommended!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Semi-useful as a field guide -- here are the details, July 28, 2008
This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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First, I want to say that this bird book represents a fine overall effort by its author, editors, designer, photographers, devisors of range maps, and other contributors. While it has clear limitations as a field guide, it's still an excellent reference for birdwatchers.

I need to provide some background here so that folks will better understand my comments regarding this new 2008 birding field guide. Field guides are used by nature lovers and natural resource professionals mostly to IDENTIFY birds, wildflowers, rocks and minerals, reptiles, trees, and any number of other creatures, plants, and non-living objects found in our natural environment.

In regard to birds there are hundreds of available field guides but their numbers shrink as one either limits the geographical area that they cover, or, as the number of species in such guides expand, (e.g., from "Hawks of the U.S." to "Birds of the U.S.").

In this instance we have a birder's field guide which covers all species found in the United States (including Alaska) and Canada. So, there are really only three other field guides which closely rival the instant one and they are The Sibley Guide to Birds, National Geographic Field Guide To The Birds Of North America, 4th Edition, and, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides(R)). (I don't mention A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America ["Golden Field Guide"] because it offers very limited information). This is not to say that I use the large Sibley guide while I'm out on bird hikes - I don't because it's too bulky. The National Geographic guide is just small enough to carry in the field as is the Peterson guide but, again, they offer limited information, (which is okay if all you want to do is IDENTIFY the birds). The Smithsonian guide suffers from the same perplexing size and weight problem as the large Sibley guide, albeit the former is actually 12 percent smaller than Sibley (I refer to the "large" Sibley guide because it is now also available in essentially an "eastern" and a "western" version.)

Both my wife and I have been active birdwatchers for many years (her science is far superior to mine!) and we own every available birding field guide for our regions of study and duplicates of some. After hundreds of hikes, camping trips, and other bird outings, I'm pretty aware of the likes and dislikes of birders concerning field guides. The one conclusion that most of us share is that a field guide should be COMPACT and LIGHT so it can be comfortably carried in a large pocket. To achieve this we now know that field guides should be split into two volumes: Eastern U.S. and Canada, and, Western U.S. and Canada. One does not need a western guide for birding in say, Pennsylvania, so why deal with the excess bulk? That's what we'll be doing when we carry either the large Sibley guide or this one into the woods or marsh.

The large Sibley Guide weighs 2 ½ pounds. The Smithsonian Guide weighs 2 pounds (I weighed them both on accurate culinary scales). That's slightly too much for comfort in the field even if your pocket is big enough. Hearty souls might carry the Smithsonian guide in a day pack or, in a new and innovative piece of birding attire called "Big Pockets". The outer dimensions of The Smithsonian Guide are: 8" x 6" x 1 ¼".

Which field guides DO I see during outings of experienced birders? In addition to the large Sibley guide, there are only four which are used 98% of the time:

A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America
(Peterson, essentially divided into two separate volumes, "eastern" and "western")

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
(divided into two separate volumes, eastern" and "western")

National Geographic Field Guide To The Birds Of North America, 4th Edition

A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America
("Golden Field Guide")

I use The Peterson Field Guide and my wife uses the National Geographic Field Guide. I think that many of us have stayed with the Peterson guide for no better reason than the fact that it's been a real workhorse and a good friend over many years of hobbyist birding. However, we always carry the large Sibley guide in the car as a back-up reference and now, we will additionally be carrying along the Smithsonian Field Guide. And here's a good place to point out the unique Hallmark Feature of the Smithsonian Field Guide: IT HAS INCORPORATED ACTUAL PHOTOS OF ALL THE BIRDS! All the others rely solely on artwork of the birds so having actual photos is going to be a great advantage and probably offers the chief reason as to why folks should keep it close at hand on birding trips.

Here are my criteria for selecting a birding field guide. I have also rendered the "answers" as to how the Smithsonian Field Guide fits into these criteria:

1. size (will it fit in a large pocket or daypack?) - daypack, but not cargo pants pockets.

2. photos, art (color?), or line drawings? - actual photographs, from 1-5 photos per species.

3. quality of bird descriptions - superb!

4. illustrated "field marks" included? (these are little marks on the drawings to direct the birder's attention to significant nuances of each bird species' appearance) - no.

5. are both Spring and Fall plumages illustrated? (most important with warbler species and certain shorebirds) - not very much.

6. juvenile birds illustrated? - quite a bit, especially where it's important.

7. font size and type (straight-forward and big enough to read easily?) - a little dicey but readable.

8. binding types (softcover versions are always best in the field) - softcover.

9. credentials of the author(s)/illustrator(s) - superb.

10. water resistant/waterproof binding and/or pages? - yes.

11. pleasing format/layout? (this varies widely from guide to guide and is subjective from one person to another). - yes, quite usable and pleasing, not confusing.

12. terminology (technical or common terminology?) - anyone can understand, plus book includes a glossary of terms.

13. range maps included? (very important for new birders!) - yes, including winter, year-round, breeding, migration, and "rare" range maps.

14. migration route maps included? - refer to regular range maps.

15. a "fast" index? (this is difficult to determine in advance because it's a subjective evaluation, varying with individuals -- this involves how fast one can locate a bird drawing/description, utilizing the index to refer to the page on which it is featured) - yes, and it includes a second "quick index" which is a very nice feature.

16. price? (the least important consideration) - very reasonable for the high quality of this publication.

No field guide offers the "best of everything" for two specific reasons:

1. The book would become a tome which, in itself, would totally disqualify it as a field guide. Remember, the first purpose of any field guide is to help the user to IDENTIFY something - so, you don't need a "life history" or any other field use impedimenta.

2. No two birders could ever agree on what is "best"!

The Smithsonian Field Guide also features a birder's checklist (life-list, in the back of the book) which can be maintained as one "collects" sightings of each species. Also, secured inside the rear cover is a "birdsong DVD" which will be equally useful to experienced birders and to newbies of this great pastime as well. Be advised that if your DVD player represents older technology (as mine does) this disc will read out as "incompatible" with your player. My five year-old computer rejected it as well. A final nice feature of the Smithsonian guide is that each bird's status is noted by the ABA coding system, a device for conveying chiefly the abundance of any particular bird. I don't recall seeing this caveat in any other field guide, albeit, in a few years this feature will render the book out-of-date as the status of individual bird species change.

My career has been that of a State Park Ranger, State Game Protector, Federal Game Warden, and Instructor of Natural Resources at the local university. As a consequence of that professional exposure, in addition to my numerous informal bird outings, I have met hundreds of great birders and have had the singular privilege of discussing the frequent topic of field guides with them. Other than binoculars, no piece of equipment or accessory is more important to a birder than his or her field guide.

In summary, I award Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America my highest recommendation to accommodate experienced birders who would like to carry this guide in the car (or in a daypack); to people who would love a superior guide for identifying birds at their home feeders or as they vacation the beach, and; to both new and experienced birders who will find the beautiful photographs to be indispensable in identifying birds.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good field guide but DON'T BUY THIS BOOK FOR THE DVD!, July 21, 2008
By 
Donald Morgan "mntncougar" (Coventry, CT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
I'll admit that I did buy it partially for the DVD and that's a major disappointment. Though it contains 587 files, they cover only 138 birds, and the selection of the birds is suspect at best. Including species such as American Robin, European Starling and House sparrow is just a waste. Also, many of the individual tracks are nesting sounds, etc. which are useless to me and I believe, the typical birder. If they had included only typical songs and calls they could have probably included 300 or 400 birds with that many tracks. The tracks are the typically excellent recordings of Lang Elliot, who, of course, has a library of probably thousands of birds.
Having said that, I agree with the majority of reviews which say the book is a good to excellent field guide, which could stand on its own and probably deserve a rating between 4 and 5 stars. The pictures are excellent, in many cases better than I have found in other guides for a particular species. There is also a good bit of detailed and useful information included. I would recommend the book to anyone. They should have left out the DVD and knocked a buck or two off the price.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book worthy of taking a spot on your reference shelf., July 23, 2008
This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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There is no doubt that this book is well worth it's price for the information it contains, but for an avid birder like myself, it's hard to not compare it to the old standby, Peterson Field Guide(R) to Eastern Birds: Fourth Edition (Peterson Field Guides). (Eastern or Western North American editions.)

When I first started birding over 15 years ago, I started with a similar field guide that showed photographs of the birds rather than illustrations. While an illustrated field guide may not be as "pretty" it's much more consistent in being able to show the exact markings you will expect to see in a given species. Try to identify a fall warbler and you'll see what I mean. (Fall warblers are not as colorful as their spring counterparts which makes them much more difficult to identify.) I graduated to the Peterson's illustrated guides and have been using them faithfully ever since.

In this Smithsonian edition, the images are beautiful and attempt to show the variety on male/female/juvenille/seasonal plumages. The size, wingspan, weight, typical habitat, song description and a range map are included on every page of every species. Peterson's guides make you flip to the back of the book for the range maps and this is much easier.

Songs on the DVD go from species to species without an announcement of what species you hearing, unlike the other CD's of bird songs that I've listened to. If you are listening to the songs on an MP3 player, or in a program like Windows Media player, images of the current vocalizing bird display as album art which is a nice touch. Even if you aren't listening to specifically learn the birds, it's very pretty to hear the songs run from one to the next, like being in the woods with them.

The book includes a description of each family at the beginning of each section. There is also a species checklist at the back of the book.

One thing I missed in this book are the bird of prey silhouette images from Peterson's book. The silhouettes are very helpful for bird of prey identification when spotting them against a sunny sky.

I believe this book is too big to use as a practical field guide, both in physical size, and number of species unless you are taking a cross country bird watching expedition.

I'm also not sure that the cover would hold up in the long run, as it's not as durable as the cover on the Peterson's guide. The size and weight of this book might cause it to get beat up quicker than it should.

The DVD is secured to the inside of the back cover, and I personally don't like keeping a disc in a book as it makes the book hard to handle. This might be petty, but when I tried to remove the disc pouch, it was very secure and caused me to tear up the inside back cover.

All in all, I'm still giving it 5 stars for the amount of information you get for the money. It's a beautiful book worthy of taking a spot on your reference shelf.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best photographic field guide to North American birds to date, June 20, 2008
This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
Like the previous reviewers, I prefer field guides that use paintings. However, a photographic guide is extremely helpful as a reference and "supplemental" guide. And photographic guides are getting much better, each one improving on the previous. It is no different in this case, as I consider this guide the best available photographic guide to North American birds.

The most important aspect of the book, the photographs, certainly do not disappoint. They are sharp and simply look great. More importantly, the author has obviously taken care to include images that show off the most important field marks. Each species gets approximately three photographs, with a minimum of one and maximum of 10. Most species are covered adequately, but there are some that could use more coverage, such as the swallows, where surprisingly three of the eight are not shown in flight.

Each photo includes a caption that highlights the most prominent field marks for the species, as well as other important information. This is often the only "traditional" identification-related text, so reading them is crucial. Additionally, each picture is labeled with the state/province and month in which it was taken. This ought to be a standard feature for any photography-based guide.

The species accounts are included on the same page as the photographs, and include a good bit of information, some not found in other field guides. The species' abundance is indicated through the use of the ABA Code system, which is a numeric code defined by the American Birding Association that classifies the general abundance of all North American birds. This is a very welcome inclusion, as most field guides surprisingly do not give the reader a good idea of how common or rare a species is. Also included in the accounts are: habits; ecology; voice; size; and variation.

The range maps are fantastic, having been compiled by the leading expert in North American bird distribution. They use a whopping five colors to indicate breeding, winter, resident, migratory, and rare ranges.

A much publicized feature of this book is the inclusion of a DVD with "587 downloadable bird songs". Only 138 species are included, but that means that each species has an average of 4 tracks each. Obviously, this collection is not extensive enough to be your sole source for bird sounds, but the large number of tracks per species makes it a great supplement. The tracks are in MP3 format, which should make it easy to transfer them to a mp3 player.

Overall, I would recommend this guide as a great supplement to your primary field guide. But it is good enough that it would also be acceptable for use as a primary guide. And the DVD certainly is a nice bonus.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Bird Book Begets Better Birders, July 23, 2008
This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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Length:: 0:32 Mins

We begin the book with excellent introduction consisting of identification, coverage, species accounts, and a concise Natural History of Birds prefacing over 400 pages of excellent spotting photos, descriptive text and colorful range maps.

The photographs are carefully shot to illustrate the characteristics identifying of a bird, but as I work through it I am finding the size to be a bit small- here, the Audubon guide's formatting seems to make more sense as it allows two large photos a page, instead of four to six rather small images. As a field guide, I suppose there must be concessions to portability- even though at just over two pounds and measuring 6 by 8 inches, it will not slip easily into many pockets.

Even so, I find I prefer to have all the info on one page, rather than having to go from the index to a plate to the description page then maybe back to the plate again. It's still a little effort to find your bird, but so far the most accessible and painless way I have tried.

Included was an unexpected bonus, a DVD-ROM with nearly 600 high quality MP3 files of birdsongs. The folder wrapping it has a thumbnail of each species and the filename of the call. Each file also has an embedded image of the bird to accompany, but my equipment is too ancient to be able to view. I find this to be an added advantage to me in identifying birds, if I can guess at the species in general, the sounds help me pin it down exactly. And they're great for driving your cats insane.

A review comparing one product to another is not a very creative way to go about it, but in a case like the SFG there is a perfectly good reason, and that would be the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds of North America. The earliest version of this book goes back to 1838, the edition I have was first published in 1977 (mine is from 1994)

Butte Creek Canyon is a great place for birds. The video is a little clip of the reviewer practicing his turkey call. Other than obvious birds like that, I have never been very good at identifying them, and I have just lumped them into categories- "those little finchlike things", "the doves", "woodpeckers" - only a few have a big enough reputation to be properly specifically identified: turkey vultures, quail, and, yes, turkeys. I picked up the Audubon book some time ago and I never really found it very helpful. I know two centuries of birders will revile my skills, but while I found the layout beautiful to flip through, it was frustrating for getting an answer.

Enter the SFG. At once I saw a major complaint I have with the Audubon book is not present: color plates and the description are on the same page, unlike the Audubon book, in which you must first find the plate of the bird you seek, then refer to the description in the second section. I know this is probably way John J did if back then, and I am equally sure there is a great reason for it, but for the casual bird admirer like myself it was just another step until I could get to understand the feeding habits of the Western Tanager, for example. Missing are the silhouettes of the Audubon book, which work for aircraft spotting but not much of a help to me with birds.

There are many bird books out there, but I would conclude this one is superior- it is thorough and professional in every regard.

Update: I received an iPod for my birthday, and believe it or not one of the first things I did was upload the birdsongs and images from the DVD- mainly because I wanted to see how they did it. . Just browse to the folder on the disk you want to copy into iTunes, and import as another musical selection with the image of the bird as the cover art. Which can make for an interesting shuffle-play experience!

It is way cool, and while I do not plan to carry the Pod when I am out wandering the woods, it is a nice feature and might prove helpful in identification in the future.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for the experienced...a bit daunting for the beginner. DVD does NOT require a computer!, July 28, 2008
By 
Quickbeam (Oconomowoc, WI USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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I thought our household would be a good test for this product. My husband is a 40 year wilderness birder. I can barely tell a heron from a chickadee. He took it with him on 2 trips he guided and found it to be one of the best field manuals he has used. He liked the clarity of the photos and the display of birds in various states (immature, male female, etc).

He then took me birding and I was not able to use the book without help. I don't know what makes a bird a warbler (for example) so it would be impossible for me to know that this was the section I needed to use. I am sure with time and an occasional eyeroll, I would find this useful.

Big rave for the DVD (although like another reviewer my back cover ripped getting it out). Not sure if this is clear to everyone but this DVD plays on a plain old DVD player. I have no home computer and because of the "MP3!" claims, almost didn't even try it out. The bird songs are very clear; I was able to identify bird song not only of where I live now but all my prior homes. I just wanted to make sure that prospective buyers know that you don't need to be high tech to enjoy all the features of this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just awesome!, July 22, 2008
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This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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Caveat: I'm not a hardcore birder, but I do enjoy looking at and identifying the birds in our yard. So this is from the POV of a very casual bird fan :)

This is a beautiful, extremely thorough guide, with more than 750 species. I love the photographs -- I was a little worried at first that they would be difficult to use, compared to the paintings in most guides -- but they're all extremely clear and crisp. Most species' entries include photos of different sexes, ages, etc.

Each entry also includes a map, a code describing how common the bird is, the species' size and weight, a description of the molts and differences between sexes, a summary of the best spots to see it, and a description of the bird's call.

The included CD of birdsongs is also great. I love how each sound file comes with a photo so you can view it on your MP3 player.

One complaint: If you don't already have an idea of what group the bird you're looking at falls into, it may be hard to find it in this guide. For example, if you know don't know you're looking for a finch, then you'd probably spend a lot of time paging through the photos. So that might make this book a little bit better for more experienced birders.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Handy field guide for the amatuer looking to get into bird watching and the enthusiast, July 30, 2008
By 
Misuzmama (New York, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Paperback)
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A beautifully illustrated guide of North American birds. Contains an ample introduction to get any novice started in bird watching. And enough information to keep even the experts satisfied. Hundreds of pictures -many are with both male and female or adult and juvenile of the species. Also includes facts on the individual birds:

Length
Wingspan
Weight
Molting intervals
Plumage pattern
Geographical Habitat
Song -written description

Along with the book is a fantastic high quality CD with hundreds of bird songs (500+). This handy guide (~ 8" x 6" ) would easily fit into a bag/backpack. The glossy cover can be wiped downed in case of spills. And the pages and binding are sturdy enough to withstand years of use.

*The only caution I have is that this guide may be complex in the beginning for a novice (that would be me). The birds are listed by species order and not by geographical region. So you can't simply look up all the birds in New York State for example. Therefore unless you have a at least a vague idea on what you looking at, searching through the book maybe a bit time consuming at first.
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Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Paul Hess (Paperback - May 27, 2008)
$24.95 $19.83
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