Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Choosing, Using Bird Field Guides

By Dick Malnory

There are hundreds of field guides to birds on the market. So – how to select the right one for yourself? Here are some points to consider:

· Choose a guide that covers the geographic region where you plan to bird. There are versions available for Eastern and Western U.S., individual states or regions, as well as for other parts of the world.

· Portability – for true field use, choose a version that easily fits into a pocket or bag to carry in the field.

· Illustrations – some field guides have photos of the birds, others use paintings. With modern photo editing technology, photographs may represent a bird most faithfully; however, paintings offer the ability to highlight field marks, so this decision becomes a matter of personal choice.

· Choose a field guide that includes bird descriptions for different seasons (i.e., spring – breeding), for both genders and for juveniles, along with pictures representing each. It is helpful to have a field guide that points out distinguishing field marks and size by the picture of each bird.

· Some guides include unique feeding behaviors and flight patterns. A few field guides include silhouettes, a great help in bird recognition.

· Bird songs are usually included but may be difficult to interpret. An exception to this are the new electronic field guides with bird calls.

· One of the handiest features is a quick reference index at either the front or back of the field guide. This eliminates going through the entire index for each search. Tabs or color codes for bird families facilitate searching.

· Range maps should appear on the same page as the pictures, for ease in use.

A final point about field guides - any bird guide is worthless unless studied and used regularly! Unfortunately the information is not absorbed by placing the book under your pillow at night.

A large variety of birds will be seen this fall at Hagerman NWR as the fall migration is underway. For your convenience, these field guides and foldout flash guides are now available for sale in the new Nature Nook at the Refuge:

Birds of North Texas laminated field guides, Ducks at a Distance, Birds of North America, Backyard Birds of Texas, Field Guide to Birds: Texas, and Songbirds Pocket Guide.

Binoculars and field guides are also available on a short term loan basis for use at the Refuge during your visit. For more information, see Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge or Friends of Hagerman.

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