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The Sibley Guide to Birds Paperback – October 3, 2000

4.7 out of 5 stars 329 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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
Birders are an optimistic lot--always looking forward to the next day, the next season--and no season is as keenly anticipated as spring. Everyone loves spring, of course, but to a birder that feeling is multiplied as
spring is the season of discovery. Migrating birds make their way north from wintering grounds in the south to breeding grounds in the north, and no matter where you are you can see this migration in action. Every day brings new arrivals and new sightings, and the flood of birds can be overwhelming at times.

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (October 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679451226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679451228
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (329 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David D. Gersten on October 3, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The latest attempt to publish the perfect bird guide book comes very close. The Sibley guide is more comprehensive than the National Geographic guide (NG) in its inclusion of views. In examining each page of the book I was bewildered at the number of views. The first published drawings I have seen of some species in flight are in this thorough book.
The group accounts to begin each section are excellent. These accounts show all species in a family on one page; often examining hard to identify plumages like first-winter female wood-warblers. The range maps and voice details are much better than any previous attempt. Identification skills are sprinkled throughout the book in areas where they are most needed. In this regard, the Sibley guide gives the user some of what Kenn Kaufman's Advanced Birding, Jack Connor's The Complete Birder and the American Birding Association's Birding magazine provide.
It falls short of perfection in four areas that will be considered minor by most readers:
The drawings are not as sharp as in the NG. The feather detail is often absent and edges are blurred leaving less of the feather texture affect found in the NG. This may be a purposeful attempt to get users to focus on the feel of the bird rather than searching for details that can sometimes only be seen with a bird in hand.
The habitat information is not as complete as in the NG. Unlike the NG where habitat and historical details are provided with individual species, the Sibley guide gives their habitat info in group descriptions at the tops of most pages.
There are still some omissions. While I have not had time to search for every vagrant species, two birds I have personally seen in North America are not included - the whiskered tern and the brown shrike.
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Format: Paperback
David Sibley has written an excellent field guide. This book surpasses National Geographic's "Field Guide to Birds of North America" and the Peterson's Series of Bird Guides. It includes a greater number of illustrations and portrays more of the various ages of the birds. One has to appreciate the flight views of the many birds.
The colors of the illustrations are excellent. This corrects one compliant of the 3rd edition of National Geographic Field Guide. Advanced and beginning birders will benefit from the examples. The range maps have been adjusted in several cases. Sibley has taken great care in producing the most up-to-date field guide.
The accompanying text is very informative. It is packed with information about each species. Sibley "Guide to Birds" definitely shows that years were taken to produce this comprehensive reference.
If there is a downside, this book is heavy. Many pages were required to incorporate all the interesting and informative information contained in this fabulous book!
Sibley has set a new standard in Bird Field Guides. It will be years before this book is surpassed. Sibley's "Guide to Birds" is a must book for any birders library.
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Format: Paperback
After spending a weekend in the field with the new Sibley's, I can attest to the value of this book. Initially I was impressed by the many illustrations and detail that obviously go into every species description. Sibley spends needed time and space on difficult-to-identify species instead of just a couple of head profiles. On a weekend when I saw both Harlan's and Krider's Red-tailed Hawks (as well as the usual birds), this was quite welcome. The only item that could be a possible drawback with this book is that I don't feel enough attention was given to identifying habitat for many birds. When one is trying to Empidonax flycatchers, habitat is vital when making identification. While habitat is mentioned, I just don't think that it is given the importance it should have. That said, this book is a winner!! I wouldn't hesitate to purchase this book (or give it as a gift). It may replace your field guide of choice, but even if it doesn't it is an excellent supplement. As an aside - with all the splitting going on, this is the first book I've seen (I haven't looked at Kaufman's) that places Vireos with the Jays they have now been classified with. Also, all the most recent name changes have been included. Quite a benefit!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From the moment I first opened David Sibley's new field guide, I was mesmerized. It offers a compact presentation on every species of bird north of the Mexican border and is undoubtedly one of the most user-friendly guides ever developed. In many ways, Sibley takes Roger Torey Peterson's method to its logical end--a guide that capsulizes all the essential information about similar species, arraying them close to each other for comparison. But unlike Peterson, Sibley presents ample information on the many plumages of individual species which are apt to confuse even some of the most experienced birders. Sibley's art work is very appealing to the eye, and his bird potraits are all very naturally posed. He also points out distinguishing field marks with text arrayed alongside his portraits, facilitating rapid identification. His approach also offers flight views together with perched views where that is helpful.
There are a few negatives--only a few. The book would be unwieldy to carry in the field. (Best to bring it along and leave it in the car, perhaps.) The range maps are for the most part too small to easily distinguish, especially where birds appear in only limited areas. And the description of songs and calls strike me as inferior to Peterson's, from which I've learned most of the songs and calls I know over the past 40 years.
In comparison to the other new bird guide just published, Kenn Kaufman's "Focus Guide," I much prefer David Sibley's. While Kaufman has crammed an incredible amount of information into a small, very quickly accessible volume, Sibley's is far more useful in distinguishing between species. Kaufman's is far handier to carry along in the field, but it offers far less data on individual species than Sibley.
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