51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
An unexpected treat,
By A Customer
This review is from: A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America (Peterson Field Guides) (Turtleback)
This book is the latest edition in a long line of Peterson Field Guides. As such it has a lot to live up to. It is written in a similar format to the series most recent work on the Warblers of North America (John Dunn and Kimball Garrett, 1997) and includes the same basic categories of description, behaviour, habitat, similar species, status and conservation, and subspecies and taxonomic relationships in the species accounts.
The book covers over 30 species of hummingbirds that regularly occur in the United States or have the potential for occurence as vagrants from Mexico. It is entirely a photographic guide which has both advantages and disadvantages from paintings or illustrations.
Its a good 1st start, but there are some issues that need to be addressed. First, the photographs for each species are somewhat small, especially those that depict live birds in the field. This and the low-quality of some photos often obscure important identification features. On the other hand the plates showing close-up photographs of spread tail patterns and the head and bill are especially benefical (even if the birds are unnaturally depicted held in the hand). These characters are extremely useful in species identification, and I know of other guide that shows them so well (I have yet to look at Steve Howell's book on Hummingbirds, so I can't comment on that book).
The book continues the Peterson tradition of using arrows to point out important field characters. However, there seems to be a disparity between the photographs and the accompanying text adjacent to the plates. The end result is often confusion and leaves the reader trying to figure out what is specifically important about a particular feature. For instance, an arrow may point to a bill of a hummingbird, but it is sometimes difficult to find in the text what is diagnostic about that particular species bill. The information is there, but it is simply buried in the text and you have to read to find it. Bulleted highlights might make this easier.
Additionally, the accompanying text/captions for each plate are not arranged in a logical fashion which compounds the problem. In many cases they are written as a block of text describing the field characters for an sex/age class with data on individual species given below as subcategories. In many cases there is one paragraph giving species characters, but there are several photographs, none of which are referenced in the text. It would be better to address each photograph individually and mention the important points that are specifically shown in that photo separately instead of trying to write a broad description that is not connected with the pictures. This would make the guide more user-friendly and visually appealing (i.e. 4 photos on one page would correspond with 4 separate blocks of text describing each picture in one-to-one context). It may be that there is just too much information to present in a organized fashion. I realize this is a problem with any book that tries to cover the large amount of detail that this book presents.
The range maps for each species are exceptionally well done and appear up to date. They include the most current records of vagrants that I know of.
I especially like the inclusion of the many Mexican species that although have yet to be conclusively documented in the United States range close enough to warrant mentioning. This alerts the observer to the possibility of those species which are not typically shown in the standard North American bird guides. There are several species however that are mentioned but have no photographs (Golden-Crowned Emerald and Canivet's Emerald). Photos of these birds would have be useful.
Also important are the many photographs showing hybrid combination of hummingbirds. Hummingbird species tend to hybridize more regularly than other bird groups so these photos are a plus.
Finally, the information on Plumage Variation and Molt in the species accounts is a huge benefit.
Overall, the information in the book is accurate, informative, and useful. However it is perhaps a better guide for banders who have the bird in the hand and want to visually see examples of tail pattern, etc. (however, the book lacks those important measurements that the banders rely on). As a field guide it contains a massive amount of information that could overwhelm the backyard birder who simply wants to enjoy these feathered jewels. The book is geared mainly towards those advanced birders who are mostly aware of the many characters used to separate hummingbird species. Its definitely worth having if you are bibliophile or just enthusastic about birds.