on October 22, 2002
I just finished reading SIBLEY'S Birding Basics. I was impressed enough with it that I thought I would write a short review.
In the past, when friends/acquaintances have asked what books I would recommend in order to improve their birding skills - not a field guide - I would recommend either Birding for Beginners; Sheila Buff or The Complete Birder; Jack Connor. In addition, I would always recommend getting The Basics of Bird Identification (Bird Topography) - A Birders Journal Publication. This is because neither of the two previous texts dedicated sufficient, if any, time on understanding bird topography. Reading the latter text was a big breakthrough for me in bird identification. I believe it is absolutely essential if you want to start nailing the tough field identifications. It gives you an understanding and takes you to another level of bird identification that you are just not going to get outside of bird-in-hand, detailed examination experience.
I have both of Sibley's previously published texts - he has been quite voluminous lately - The SIBLEY GUIDE to Bird Life & Behavior and The SIBLEY Guide to Birds. While I have mixed emotions about the goals of each of these texts and Sibley's success in accomplishing them, I can argue that they are very worthwhile books and any avid birder should probably count them among their personal library.
This brings us to Sibley's latest text, the topic of this CoBirds post. I have been birding all my life; more seriously for about the past 10 years or so - thanks to Walt and Alan V.
So you might say, "why read a 'birding basics' book?" There are two answers:
1) I am an incurable book hound, and digest most all books I can get my hands on in my areas of interest, and
2) I believe there is always more to learn.
Now some books fall short on the promise of #2. I will start reading it, then just skim it, and then finally just put it on my shelf after it has sat on my nightstand without being touched for the requisite amount of time. This latest book from Sibley was not one of those. I believe this is his best work yet. And compared to those large tomes of his two previous publications, it comes in a small paperback book only 155 pages long.
I believe this book has something to offer for beginner to expert. I picked up at least one new piece of information in every section, and sometimes, many more. In addition, he devotes a great deal of time to bird topography. So this new book has everything that I used to recommend two books for, rolled into one. It is extremely readable; has a natural progression of topics; and many illustrations that help to drive home advanced topics.
If you are considering a book to enhance your birding identification skills, all of the books that I mentioned in the second paragraph above are very worthwhile, but I believe that Sibley's new book has just taken first place in my recommendation list.
on November 11, 2002
I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by David Allen Sibley at the Princeton University Bookstore a couple of weeks ago. He's a shy person, but once he starts talking about his favorite subject (birds, of course), he's as talkative as the most garrulous of people. Even in person, then, his knowledge of all minutiae of the avian world is staggering. That doesn't mean he doesn't understand the common pitfalls of the struggling, novice birder who wants so much to identify that giant bird with the colors of a goldfinch or the raptor as small as a songbird. He told us a couple of amusing stories about bird misidentification, one of which involved a mistake he made years ago... which just goes to show that if Mr. Sibley can make a birding mistake, there's hope for the rest of us.
Anyway, "Sibley's Birding Basics" does, indeed, serve as the introduction to his bestselling field guide that he'd originally hoped to include in the field guide. He covers all the essential bird identification topics in a clearly, if scholarly, written manner, from the importance, structure and groupings of feathers; to the bird's outer anatomy; to birdsong; to clues to bird identification (behavior, molt patterns, feather wear-and-tear) that aren't covered at all in other field guides. And the illustrations, a talent for which Mr. Sibley is justifiably famous, are the most meticulous you'll find anywhere, whether the drawing shows a comparison between a summer tanager and a northern cardinal or simply of feather types.
Finally, "Birding Basics" includes a brief but to-the-point admonition to birders who might venture too close or too noisily to the objects of their fascination. For example, you read about the usefulness of "pishing" in other books and hear about it from other expert birders, but Mr. Sibley believes this technique is overused and has the potential to harm many birds' ability to go about their difficult daily existence.
In conclusion, run, don't walk, to the nearest computer and order this book from amazon.com!
on November 4, 2002
This is the book that I wished I had when I started bird watching. This book explains the strategies you should use to identify birds. When you go out birding you will often (nearly always?) not see the bird clearly, or long enough to make a perfect call. This book addresses that problem. I have never seen it addressed so well.
All of the three recent Sibley books are just first rate. I recommend starting with this one on identification, then getting his general guide one, then the one that talks about their behavior. I really liked the behavior one also. Its great to research out a bird that you are watching to find out more about how they act.
The illustrations in all of his books are first rate. I have a lot of bird books and found that Sibley's are the best of those I bought.
Sugar Land, TX
I came into this book with some interest in learning to identify birds around the yard to a greater extent. This is the first book that I've seen to go beyond the basics of shape and color. It's actually a virtual biology lesson on birds with fine details about feathers, and molting among other topics. Very detailed materials that help the reader understand how to see the parts of the bird beyond quick impressions in order to make identifications. But I also gained a new insight into an animal that I took for granted just seeing every day. Sibley is an incredible artist and liberally demonstrates his concepts with sketches and drawings of a wide variety of birds. The combination of beautiful art, and clear, educational writing makes one of the best introductions I've ever seen to birds, and how to know and appreciate them. Highly recommended for the casual as well as serious bird enthusiast.
Almost every field guide gives a an introduction to the skills that need to be learned if one wants to develop any proficiency in finding and identifying birds in the field.In this book David takes it a whole lot further and has produced a book that covers all the skills needed and would be a great asset to any birder,be they a novice or a long time seasoned birder.It is not a book to replace the normal field guide but instead is a super addition to hone the skills of any birder,regardless of their skills.I won't try to cover what is in this book as other reviewers have done a fair job of it already.
What this book does is to explain why a bird was found where it was,why it was not something else,why is it such and such when it only remotely resembles the picture in the field guide,how could you tell,it's too dark to see the colors,and on and on.
You will also learn the many subtle differences and field marks to look for ,especially if you want to try to describe a bird to someone else,write it up in your journal or even to help if you listen to and hope to understand some more experienced birder describing a bird you may even be looking at.
One way to show what this book is all about might be to compare it to Baseball or Bridge.The standard books tell you all the rules and finer points of the game;this book tells you how to play the game.
Don't let the fact that this book has only 154 pages and not very expensive fool you.It is very unique and would
be welcomed by any birder who doesn't already have it.
I must say,however,that this is not the type of 'bird book' to buy if you just want to buy one book.It is definately the book to buy to go along with any other Field Guide that covers all the birds in an area;such as National Geographic's Birds of North America,Peterson's Field Guides,American Bird Conservancy's field guide to All the Birds of North America,Kaufman's Birds of North America,Sibley's Guides or any of the other excellent guides available.
on November 6, 2002
You know I have both of David Sibley's other books and though I enjoy them I've never quite understood why people thought they were such trememdous accomplishments. Maybe I needed to read this book first. It is such a good book. On almost every page I learn something to help me bird a little more successfully. I've particularly come to appreciate both the artistic quality of the drawings and their relevance to illustrating what's in the text.
From pointing out the dangers of wishful bird identification to the difference in the culmen of different birds as a helpful aid to identification it is just packed with simple, clear, useful information to help you be a better birder.
It's just a perfect little book that melds text and illustration in a way that seems to effortlessly expand your knowledge of bird identification. I don't think I would ever have imagined the day when my knowledge of birds would include the culmen. Feather differentiation just seemed beyond me. With this book you can't help but learn it, enjoy learning it, feel that it really will prove useful in the field and be amazed at how simple it was too learn.
I've already found that I'm able to use David Sibley's guide to bird identification much more effectively based on what I've learned in this book.
I couldn't recommend it more highly.
on August 31, 2004
This is the best instruction I've ever seen, printed or otherwise, on learning how to bird. It includes not only basic visual identification skills, but also the basics of how to bird by sound. Sibley teaches the feather groups and anatomy, plumage variations, molting patterns, and effects of lighting that make some indentifications so difficult. I would recommend it to any aspiring birder.
on April 5, 2004
Let me depart a bit from the other glowing reviews to point out something I think is slightly odd about this book. While the book has many outstanding features, I'm not sure it is the ideal "birding basics" book.
The first half of the book has some terrific information but is often light on content (the equipment section, birding by geography section, finding more info section) as well as some glaring gaps (breeding habits, migration patterns, birding history in North America). It's one thing to tell a beginning birder how the gestalt of a White Crowned Sparrow is different from that of a White Throated Sparrow but does the beginning birder even know when to expect either in their area? The ending on ethics and conservation is so small it almost plays to the criticism that birders are more in it for the sport than for birds themselves.
The second half of the book is a stunning review of the external structure of birds. It is better than many ornithology texts in this regard. Everything you could ever need to know about feather structure, molt, proportional differences and color perception is presented along with an excellent introduction to taxonomy and bird song.
Sibley is obviously playing to his strength here which is fine because what he knows, he really knows if you get my point. The art work is great, of course.
I don't want to come across as knocking this book. I own it, enjoy it and have learned a great deal from it. I recommend that you buy it. I'm just not sure it will serve this generation of up and comming birders as the ideal "basics" book the way Jack Connor's "The Complete Birder" did for many in the prior generation.
What do you think of a basics book that can take the time to touch on a birds nasal bristles or gestalt but omit a basic discussion on migration or breeding? Maybe it's me but it strikes me as a bit odd. I think the second half could have been published as part of a book called "Sibley's Ornithology for Birders" or something to that effect.
Perfect for the aspiring or beginning birder, veterans will wonder how they got started without it. Sibley begins with the simplest, logical advice - equipment, where to go to find birds (did you know Central Park, NY, rates with Cape May and the Monterey Peninsula for sighting migrating birds - it's the largest patch of green for miles), keeping records and avoiding mistakes. The bulk of this slim book is devoted to identifying, from behavior and voice to body configuration, feather arrangements, color patterns, structure of tail and wings, molt and more. Clear color illustrations provide plentiful examples throughout. Sibley teaches how to see and what to look for, depending on time of year, weather and habitat, and provides lots of useful information about common and unusual birds by way of illustrative examples.
At 154 pages I have always been fascinated that an author could pack so much information into so few pages. I have had a lifelong interest in birds - as a wee lad I was extremely aware of them and found each and everyone of them I spotted (I did not know the names of most) interesting and delightful. I began "serious" birding later in life than some in the late 1960s. Birding has become one of my life passions; but that being said, I must assure you that I am NOT an expert! No, no, no! Far from it as a matter of fact. Each passing year I learn more and more and discover that much I thought I knew I actually did not know...or at least did not know it well enough.
Enter this book; "Sibley's Birding Basics."
I purchased my first copy around 2005, a couple of years after it was first published. I read it and reread it and read it again...and on and on. Each time I went through the book I grumbled under my breath (I still do as a matter of fact), that I wished I had had this book and the information in it right from the beginning. My life would have been much richer had I had access to the information found in this thing.
Now this brings us to the only quibble I have concerning what is probably the best of all the Sibley books (I have all of them) and that would be the title. By using in the title the word "Basics" it gives the potential reader that this is a book meant for the beginning birder and only the beginning birder. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, it is a most wonderful book for the novice, not doubt about that, but it is also of extreme value to the most experienced of birders.
The book is organized in chapters which include: Getting Started, Finding Birds, The Challenges of Bird Identification, Misidentification, Identifying Rare Birds, Taxonomy, Using Behavioral Clues, Voice, Understanding Feathers, Feather Arrangement and Color Patterns, Structure of Tail and Winds, Bare Parts, Molt, Feather Wear, Age Variation and Ethics and Conservation.
The illustrations in this work are absolutely the best. The text is clear and concise and extremely readable in informative and the illustrations and text blend perfectly. As the author writes, he shows you what he is writing about.
I dread the day (I say with tongue in cheek and somewhat sarcastically) when I become one of those folks I meet now and then that simply know everything about birds and bird identification there is to know and are quick to tell you about it. One of the nicest things about birding is that there is always something to learn and indeed, to relearn from time to time. I am rather convinced that this little book is of great value to both the rank beginner and to the birder who has been beating the bushes for decades.
Due to being rather absent minded and quite disorganized (Long story which I will not bore you with), I recent "misplaced" my original copy of this book, ergo I was forced to buy this new one.
Now, If I can just learn to distinguish and identify all the warbles and sparrows that flit though my life I will die a happy guy...sigh. Rotten little LBJs!