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Bird Books

A Field Guide to
Field Guides
The Heavy End
(leave at home)
Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP): Handbook of the
Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. 9
Edited by Stanley Cramp
OUP, 1997 1994. Out of Print
Birds of the WesternPalaearctic: Annual Calendars
among all the maps and illustations, the calendars are
a unique feature but they don't cover song periods!

Song Thrush Nightingale

The handbook of bird identification : for Europe and the western
Palearctic by Mark Beaman (1998)
Almost 900 species, 600 breeding species. Plates and text in separate
sequences, but a highly authoritative text concentrating on ID
Out of print, second hand around 40.00
My favourite
illustration from HBI:
Harwich docks in the

I have the original of

this hanging up in my
office. The artist is
Martin Elliott

The flying gulls also

reappear in the RSPB
The handbook of British birds by Harry Forbes Witherby (1938)
London: H. F. & G. Witherby ltd., 1938-41. 5 v : illus. (incl. maps)
plates (part col.) ; 23 cm.
Illustrations (engagingly) by M. A. Koekkouk Mr Cuckoo but still
very 19th Century
Lots of details, many referring to the bird in hand, like the Godwit
bills, absolutely not a field guide: this is still a treasury of
ornithological information and a very useful reference. Still
available second hand

The song period charts are a unique and important feature

Un peu d'histoire books for using in the field

In1890, Florence Merriam published Birds Through an

Opera-Glass, describing 70 common species which
focused on living birds observed in the field
In 1909 Richard Kearton said he had tried to get a good
artist to paint some pictures of birds with their most
noticeable points exaggerated. He thought that by this
method pictures of birds would be produced which would
be real aids to identification. But the artist made a fearful
hash of it.
In the USA in1934 Roger Tory Peterson produced Guide
to the Birds which sold out in one week. Illustrated by
paintings with arrows pointing to key ID features
In 1954 Peterson and James Fisher produced the first
Collins Guide to British Birds following the same pattern,
and bird books were set on a new course
Old Timers: portable books before Peterson
Birds of the wayside and woodland: Comprising a descriptive
history of the families Corvidae and Tetraonidae ; based on the
standard work "The Birds of the British Isles" by T. A Coward

Edited by Enid Blyton (!) and recycled illustrations by Gould and

Lear: a portable ornithology
Old Timers

The Observer's Book of Birds by S. Vere Benson (1952)

More 19th Century illustrations, but it does go into the pocket!

The only affordable guide when I was young 5/-

A field guide to the birds of Britain and Europe by
Roger T. Peterson (1983), 4th rev. and enlarged ed
Forty years and four editions on from the very first
guide now all in colour but with the same quick
silhouette index, and European coverage with 505
Text and photos still separate, and the maps in the back, but at
last we have highlighted field characters. We also have bird
names in European languages

This is the grandfather of the current Collins guides.

The Shell guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland by James
Ferguson-Lees (1983)
263 species, and 214 vagrants/rarities in a separate sequence
at the back. A favourite - as you can see from the battered
The next Collins Guide
Birds of Britain & Europe : with North Africa and the Middle East
by Hermann Heinzel (1995)
Text, maps and illustrations all on the same page the
illustrations by Richard Fitter, no Peterson pointers this time.
713 species and 83 accidentals
Birds of Europe : with North
Africa and the Middle East
by Lars Jonsson (1996)

This was the must have field

guide, even though it was
too big for the pocket. The
art work is a series of
stunning life studies not
always perfect for field marks
and all the birds speak in a
continental accent, umlauts
and all. Around 500 species

Now out of print but available

2nd hand
Plates, descriptions and maps in one spread
Collins Bird Guide: The
Most Complete Field
Guide to the Birds of
Britain and Europe by Lars
Svensson (1998)

772 species covering all of

Europe. This cover is the
first edition, the second
came out with important

Now the gold standard for

European birds

David Lindo's choice

We still have the Peterson
pointers, and maps, text and
artists illustrations are all
together: the lineal
descendant of the first Collins
Peterson guide
The Birdwatcher's Pocket Guide to Britain and Europe by Peter
Hayman and Rob Hume. Bounty Books (Reprinted editions) 2014
Out of Print but available second hand. Very popular small and
slim for the pocket and easy to use
RSPB Handbook of British Birds
by Peter Holden (2014)
Bloomsbury Natural History:
Anniversary ed of 4th revised
ed, 320 pages

270 species, 26 vagrants


Pocket size, packs a lot of

ornithological information into a
relatively small book

This is Gehan da Silva's choice

Text, illustrations and maps all on one page, just about goes
in the pocket
And Martin Elliott's gulls again. It doesn't have Peterson
pointers but it does show different views, and field marks are
covered in the text
RSPB Pocket Guide to
British Birds: Second Edition
by Simon Harrap (2012) 224

215 species 6.99

Fits easily into the pocket,

only the most common
species (for instance Short-
eared Owl get an entry,
Long-eared Owl only gets a

Pete Lambert recommends

it for bird walks, one species
per page and very
Plenty of detail, different plumages and views, maps on the
same page.
Savings made by cutting down the number of species
Britain's birds : an
identification guide to the
birds of Britain and Ireland
by Rob Hume (2016)

Every bird recorded in

Britain (even if there was
only one in 1859 and it was
promptly shot) every

598 species 14.95

If you want to join Lee

Evans' 400 club, this is the
book for you
The book is stuffed with information but the
photoshopped illustrations are a bit migrainous for me,
especially with waves!
Only much more expensive, and bigger books
come anywhere near this amount of
Niche Books not your usual field guide
The Macmillan Field Guide
to Bird Identification by
Keith Vinicombe (1989)
91 species. Out of print.
A new edition published in
the Helm guides is a much
fatter book!
All those birds that you
know are different, but not
very different
A beautifully illustrated
selection of confusion
species, with explanations
of distribution and
behaviour as well as
plumage. Easy to slip into
the pocket. I've worn out
one copy
The Helm Guide to Bird
Identification by Keith
Vinicombe (2014)
243 species. 24.99
The new incarnation of the the
Macmillan guide, many of the
same illustrations and much of
the same text, but a larger and
less portable book
Waders of Europe, Asia and
North America (Helm Field
Guides) by Stephen
Message (2005)

124 species. 30.00

This book has a wide

geographical range, but it
has one or two really nice

For instance the quick

reference charts
In separate sequences the
guide shows the birds
standing and in flight, as well
as distribution maps;
importants here because it
covers such a wild
geographical range
The most useful and original feature are the
quick ID charts showing wings, with or without
bars and rumps and tails in flight.
Advanced bird ID guide : Western
Palearctic : every plumage of all
1,300 species and subspecies
recorded in Britain, Europe, North
Africa and the Middle East by Nils
van Duivendijk (2010)

Text descriptions of all the identifying
features of all European species and
Absolutely not for the long sighted.
There's a geriatric edition in A4 size
which is certainly not for the field.
Once you get over the shock it's a
splendid book
Can you tell the difference between a Common Chiffchaff,
a Siberian Chiffchaff and an Iberian Chiffchaff? Here's
what you have to look and listen for. Reading glasses
Sibley's Birding Basics by David Allen
Sibley (2002) 12.99

A lovely book by one of the best

current illustrators, Sibley - son of the
DNA expert (the man who decided
American vultures were really storks)

All the examples are American birds

but as it says on the tin, it examines
all the basics
Not just books, CD ROMs,
DVD ROMs, Apps, and
Websites on your smart
phone and on the web

The BTO have a

particularly good series of
videos on look-alike

BTO video on
Bedside Reading
Esther Woolfson is an outstanding essayist, and Mark Cocker
tells ornithology like it is. If your bedside table will take the
weight Birds Britannica is a very enjoyable compendium of
diverse bird facts and fancies
End of part one
Part 2 real books!

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