National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America (sixth edition) claims to be America’s number 1 bird guide; a big claim but not without reason, for this venerable classic just keeps getting better.
Every bird species in North America has been included with 23 new species added. The guide includes all species that have occurred in North America, defined here as the land extending northward from the northern border of Mexico as well as adjacent islands and seas within 200 nautical miles off the coast or offshore islands. Accidental visitors that have been seen only once to several times are included in the main text if they have been seen at least three times in the past two decades or five times in the last 100 years. At the end of the book is an illustrated list of 92 accidental species that have occurred less frequently along with specific details of their appearance. The guide adheres to the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) Committee on Classification and Nomenclature.
In total 990 species are therefore covered, quite an increase since the release of the first edition which included just over 800 species. This means 3,000 full colour illustrations in all showing many subspecies, juvenile birds and seasonal plumage changes – with more than 300 new illustrations that cover both new species and replacements of previous illustrations. To make identification even easier, the guide includes field-mark annotations and images of birds resting, roosting, swimming and flying.
In addition to illustrating more species than ever the guide has been redesigned so the illustrations are less crowded. The change has also made room for expanded species accounts that provide more in-depth coverage of vocalisations, range and geographical variation (subspecies). The five artists who created the new art for this edition – Jonathan Alderfer, Killian Mullarney, David Quinn, John Schmitt and Thomas Schultz are all active birders with years of field experience.
No field of science is static and accordingly this guide has completely reworked and updated the species maps. For the first time, the guide includes migration ranges and in many cases the guide has specified subspecies’ ranges. For more complex polytypic species the guide provides really useful larger subspecies maps at the back of the book.
Jon L Dunn has served as chief consultant for five editions of the guide and co-authored the sixth. Dunn has served as a member of the California Bird Records Committee for 24 years and is currently on the AOU Committee on Taxonomy and the American Birding Association Checklist Committee, where he has served as Chair.
Jonathan Alderfer, artist and editor, has contributed extensively to several editions of this guide and co-authored the sixth edition. He has served on the Maryland/District of Colombia Bird Records Committee and as associate editor of the American Birding Association’s magazine Birding.
Every birder will have their favourite plates, but I’d buy the book for the thrushes alone whilst the old world flycatchers and buntings are not far behind. This guide continues to accumulate richly deserved accolades from all birding quarters; the sixth edition has just got even better. If you have yet to own this guide or are in need of a serious update from an earlier edition, then I’d suggest you set your 2012 birding sights on building your US list with the National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America (sixth edition).
Click here for an interview with Jonathan Alderfer
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