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Book Review: The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America

This book by Bill Thompson III is essential for all "young" birders, children and adults alike.

Amy K. Hooper

The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America

The word "young” by no means restricts this book’s audience to minors. I vote for a broader definition — as in fresh or new to the hobby of watching birds. Merriam-Webster backs me up on this; the first definition of "young” is being in the first or an early stage of life, growth, or development.

That’s exactly right for this guide’s users — anyone who is in an early period of growth in learning about wild birds. This paperback book offers more than photos and identification tips for 300 common bird species in Canada and the United States; it provides helpful tidbits about using binoculars, getting the most info from the field guide, helping birds around your home and a lot more.

One of the easiest ways to watch birds is to lure them into your view. With feeders that hold seed or sugar-water, you can invite many species to stop by your patio or yard. (My preference: black-oil sunflower seed. Sugar-water: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water; clear and without red dye) As The Young Birder’s Guide says in the "Be Green” section, you have to clean feeders regularly, preferably with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.

An aside: While it’s necessary to disinfect feeders and prevent disease, it’s not mandatory to keep offering food after you hang up a feeder. The birds do not depend on feeders, which provide only supplementary calories to their naturally occurring sources.

Sometimes it takes days for the local birds to find your feeders while foraging. In the meantime, use TYBG to learn identification basics. Look at pages 16, 43 and 347. If you become familiar with a bird’s body parts, you’ll have an easier time learning its "field marks” or the clues to its name.

Bullock's Oriole
You can use the "Young Birder's Guide to Birds of North America" to learn identifcation basics, which can help you identify this Bullock's Oriole.

Each bird encountered is like a little puzzle or mystery to solve, because, while birds of a single species all share a certain set of physical traits, no two individuals birds, like no two individual humans, are exactly alike. You solve the mystery of a bird’s identity by gathering clues, just like a detective.

After successfully luring birds into closer range, you still might need to use a binocular – aka bins, binos and binocs – to see the clues to a bird’s species name. TYBG describes how to choose a good binocular that work well for your eyes and hands. (I don’t recommend using an older relative’s hand-me-down optics; changes in glass and coatings give today’s binoculars an obvious advantage.)

Once you’ve spent a couple minutes really looking at a bird through your binocular and gathering clues, then you turn to TYBG. Study the pictures to find the ones that look most like the bird you just looked at, and then study the range maps — on the bottom of each species profile — to make sure that species visits or lives in your area. The range maps can make all the difference for putting the correct name on that black and orange bird on your sugar-water feeder.

The species profiles give you a lot of other information, too. Each profile includes Look for, Listen for, Remember and Find it sections plus a lovely illustration. My favorite part: The circular WOW! section that shares a interesting snippet about the species, such as "House Wrens can be very feisty when it comes to nest sites. They will pierce and discard the eggs of bluebirds and others who dare to build a nest in a site the House Wren feels it ‘owns.’"

The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America
Bill Thompson III
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012


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Posted: September 11, 2013, 10:45 a.m. PDT

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Book Review: The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America

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