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The Sibley Guide to Birds Paperback – October 3, 2000
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More than 10 years in the making, David Sibley's Guide to Birds is a monumental achievement. The beautiful watercolor illustrations (6,600, covering 810 species in North America) and clear, descriptive text place Sibley and his work squarely in the tradition of John James Audubon and Roger Tory Peterson; more than a birdwatcher and evangelizer, he is one of the foremost bird painters and authorities in the U.S. Still, his field guide will no doubt spark debate. Unlike Kenn Kaufman's Focus Guide, Sibley's is unapologetically aimed at the converted. Beginning birders may want to keep a copy of Sibley at home as a reference, but the wealth of information will have the same effect on novices as trying to pick out a single sandpiper in a wheeling flock of thousands. The familiar yellow warbler, for instance, gets no less than nine individual illustrations documenting its geographic, seasonal, and sex variations--plus another eight smaller illustrations showing it in flight. Of course, more experienced birders will appreciate this sort of detail, along with Sibley's improvements on both Peterson and the National Geographic guide:
- As in Peterson, Sibley employs a pointer system for key field markings--but additional text blurbs are included alongside the illustrations to facilitate identification.
- Descriptive passages on identification are more detailed than those in most other field guides. For example, Sibley includes extensive information on the famously hard-to-distinguish hawks in the genus Accipiter (sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and northern goshawk), noting differences in leg thickness and wing beat that will be of use to more advanced birders. A section on the identification of "peeps" (small sandpipers) includes tips about seasonal molting and bill length. Confusing fall warblers, Empidonax flycatchers, and Alcids receive similar treatment.
- As previously mentioned, ample space is given to illustrations that show plumage variations by age, sex, and geography within a single species. Thus, an entire page is devoted to the red-shouldered hawk and its differing appearances in the eastern U.S., Florida, and California; similarly, gulls are distinguished by age and warblers by sex.
- Range maps are detailed and accurate, with breeding, wintering, and migration routes clearly depicted; rare but regular geographic occurrences are denoted by green dots.
- The binding and paper stock are of exceptional quality. Despite its 544 pages, a reinforced paperback cover and sewn-in binding allow the book to be spread out flat without fear of breaking the binding.
Some birders will be put off by the book's size. Slightly larger than the National Geographic guide, it's less portable than most field guides and will likely spend more time in cars and desks than on a birder's person while in the field. For some it will be a strictly stay-at-home companion guide to consult after a field trip; others may want to have it handy in a fannypack or backpack. But regardless of how it is used, Sibley's Guide to Birds is a significant addition to any birding library. "Birds are beautiful," the author writes in the preface, "their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature." Pleasing, too, is this comprehensive guide to their identification. --Langdon Cook
Amazon Exclusive Essay: Author David Allen Sibley on Spring Birding in the United States
|photo credit: Erinn Hartman|
If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel to a place like Gray’s Harbor in Washington state, Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas, or Delaware Bay in the east, you can see hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds as they stop for a few weeks to refuel on their way to the arctic. Along the Gulf Coast beaches you can see birds that have just flown from the Yucatan or from South America and are dropping into the nearest patch of cover to rest. Even in urban areas--places like Central Park in New York City, Rock Creek Park in Washington DC, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and countless other parks in cities and towns across North America--you will find outstanding birding. During spring migration these natural oases can be filled with brightly-colored songbirds, and seeing an exotic bird like a Blackburnian Warbler or a Western Tanager, where there were none the day before, is a thrill unique to birding. You don’t even have to travel. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a neophyte, just grab some binoculars and a bird guide, and head out to your backyard, or to your local park or beach to see what’s happening. Those warm spring days when all you want to do is take a long lunch break and sprawl out on the lawn are the same days that the birds will be migrating north, and all you have to do is look up.
--David Allen Sibley
From Publishers Weekly
The bird-watching world knows Sibley best as an immensely talented painter. His thick, attractive and data-packed color guide offers nearly 7,000 images, along with range maps and detailed descriptions of songs, calls and voices, for all the birds North Americans might see. It's a more informative volume than Kenn Kaufman's forthcoming Birds of North America (Forecasts, Sept. 11) but less portable and harder for beginners to use. An introduction describes the key parts of major classes of birdsDthe tomia and culmen of a gull's bill, the scapulars and coverts of passerines (songbirds). Sibley then moves on to hundreds of pages of birds in 42 categories, from Loons and Grebes to Silky Flycatchers and Bulbuls. A typical page has two columns, with one species in each: that species gets a color-coded range map, a description of its voice, and four to eight illustrative paintings. These multiple images of single species are the guide's most attractive feature; they let Sibley show some birds in several poses, as well as important seasonal and regional, juvenile and mature, breeding and nonbreeding, or male and female versions of the same bird. (Gulls, terns, and many other seabirds, in particular, change their patterns completely when breeding.) Sibley assists viewers by giving, on the same page, images of species that might be mistaken for one anotherDone column shows 13 kinds of thrushes. He also describes calls for every bird (not just the more common ones), and makes many more comparisons. If Kaufman's guide belongs in birders' coat pockets, Sibley's big, detailed book belongs on their desks; it's easy to imagine birders rushing to Sibley's guide to check details of plumage or to confirm an ID the smaller guide has helped them make.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I have purchased the second printing of this second edition and I am very happy with the corrections. The richer colors add new life to Sibley's paintings, the text is clear and easy to read and the layout is much improved. Page space is better utilized in this edition, allowing Sibley's beautiful illustrations to take center stage. The only caution I add is that, to my knowledge, there is no way to know what printing of the second edition you are purchasing when ordering through Amazon.com.
The second printing has been released and should be available at brick & mortar book stores as well as a number of online stores. Hopefully Amazon will make a distinction between the first and second printings so that its customers can order the correct one. In case there is no way of knowing which printing you are buying from Amazon, I offer the following 2 options:
1) Go to a brick and mortar book store and physically purchase the guide. You will want to turn to the copyright page and look for "Second printing, July 2014". If it says "Second Edition, March 2014" then you are holding the first printing with the off colors and light font.
2) Go to an alternative online source such as Buteo Books, where the second printing is in stock, available for shipping and it is specified as the second printing. They even have the option to buy the first printing if one is so inclined.
When I obtain the second printing, I will update this review. So far, I have heard good things: the font is readable and the colors are more representative of what one would see in the field. I'm looking forward to this second printing!
A very annoying feature of this guide is the font. Not the size necessarily, but where many of the bird illustrations are WAY too dark, the font is way too light and lacks contrast. I keep tilting the book to get a better angle as if the text is catching or reflecting light but it's not. I have great eyesight, but I find the text a strain to read. Many of the birds are too dark and the colors are simply wrong. This shouldn't be a matter of opinion. The book betrays itself with statements like "brilliant red" on the scarlet tanager when it's obviously showing dark red; "flaming-orange throat" on the blackburnian when it's dark orange; "bright orange-red bill (never as dark red as many Caspians)" on the royal tern, well it's not bright and when you flip to the Caspian it's almost the same color! The orange-crowned warbler is green, the hooded warbler has a highlighter-yellow face, the baltimore oriole's orange is more like an american robin's red and there are many more disappointments. Some of the bird's faces are so dark that you can barely discern any detail. Sibley set the bar and his second edition does not measure up.
Update: Thank you to R. Matz for providing a link to an article from birdforum.net in which Sibley has stated in a Facebook correspondence "There are a few images (like the male Scarlet Tanager) that are obviously not OK and will be corrected in the next printing, but I think that involves a very small number of images. The font is another issue, and it's clear that too many are finding it hard to read. Tests are already being done to find a way to fix that in the next printing."
Improving the readability of the text will be a major improvement. Along with the male Scarlet Tanager, I hope Sibley will fix color issues with the following birds:
- Eastern and Western Bluebirds (too dark)
- Orange-crowned Warbler (too green)
- Blackburnian Warbler (make the orange "flaming")
- Baltimore Oriole (brighten the orange)
- Lighten some of the birds on which the facial features cannot be discerned
I look forward to the next printing (which should be available this September)and the fixes it will offer. A "Thank you" to B. Walker for contacting Knopf to find out that a fix is in the works and that we should have a new print available to purchase by late Summer.
. I really enjoy the updated nomenclature, species in the current order , the addition of 111 species which should have been in the first edition IMHO, also the additional information and ID aids are greatly appreciated.
I am however disappointed in the illustrations compared to the first edition to the point The colors came out over saturated especially on darker birds and most are now much to dark compared to the first edition...Compare the two editions on birds like Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Poorwill or almost everything dark. I do like his fix on the Parula page, but still find such species as Clay-colored Sparrow over saturated. They do not reflect reality as noted in the field. This likely a production problem and I am sure Mr. Sibley is not happy about this. This really bums me out and I just am never going to get used to it.
In addition the font size of the type has been reduced significantly and is not black but is a "gray" that makes reading it, especially for older folks, a real challenge.
Yes I will keep a copy for sure for the information therein as I find it of great value, but I will not be giving up my first edition anytime soon and NGS will remain my primary general field guide. or at least the until the printers/press correct the color and print darkness.... I applaud and thank Mr. Sibley on his significant effort and realize that once things go to press/printers he loses a lot of control is lost over what happens there. I am sure the publisher has copies in the 4 digits it needs to sell...But not to me the way it is now. I had to return extra copies today which I was sad about. I still think folks should at least have one copy.
Unfortunately I am returning it.The color issues others have mentioned(too dark for some birds/ inaccurate colors for some species etc)are simply too great to be acceptable. I hope that future printings will correct this problem and also hope that when the eastern and western guides are published that color renditions of birds will be more accurate
Despite my age(65 years next month) the text issues mentioned by other reviewers did not bother me although I can understand why the light color of the text might be a problem for some readers
Otherwise the improvements in the guide compared to the first edition are commendable
I like the page outlay and it will fill a gap in the two much smaller field guides I already own but unfortunately I do not consider it the alpha and omega of field guides and I'm sorry about that because I was really looking forward to having this book in my library of bird books.