Best Field Guide for Birds of North America and Far

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Remember all we went through during the Coronavirus pandemic, having to adjust to a new way of life, afraid to step outside? But faced with cabin fever, we realized there is more to enjoy from nature, such as watching and listening to birds in our safe backyards. Did you know that bird-watching soared during the pandemic? If you also took it up as a hobby and would like to explore further, we'd like to suggest the best field guide for birds.

What Are Field Guides for Birds?

Image Credits: travelwithbirds.blogspot.com

You can think of field guides like books that provide more information about wild animals. So, in our case, field guides for birds are books that tell you more about birds. These books generally have detailed information about bird species, habitats, voice notes, colors, behaviors, statuses, and distribution, among other tidbits.

Sounds exciting, right? Owning one is a great way to learn about bird species from North America and worldwide.

It is estimated that there are over 50 billion individual birds worldwide. These are different bird species with different nesting habitsflying techniques, and feeding/hunting habits. So, you have a lot to learn if you just started bird-watching. Luckily, this is a hobby you will love to maintain, as bird-watching also has numerous mental health benefits.

Do you already have your binoculars ready for exploration? Here are the best field guides for birds to get today.

1. Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America

Sale
Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America -- Eastern Region (Smithsonian Handbooks) (DK...
  • Fred J. Alsop III (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 752 Pages - 04/01/2001 (Publication Date) - DK (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

When you start looking for the best field guide for birds, you will soon discover hundreds of options you can choose from, which makes settling on one hard. Luckily, we can tell which guides to get by looking at how many species a book covers, to other features like illustrations, photographs, and more bird identification pointers.

So, it is no surprise we settled for this Smithsonian field guide as our best option. The guide has the best information on about 706 species, some of which we did not even know existed in Northern America. In addition, we were also looking for a guide that makes identifying birds easier. Luckily, this one makes it easy to identify birds you see on a random stroll.

Image Credits: abebooks.com

It has the most colorful photos and illustrations, so you will easily recognize your bird based on color and feather patterns. In addition, the guide goes into great detail about bird songs and vocalization, which is also extremely helpful when identifying new birds.

We recommend this book if you want to identify more species in North America, specifically eastern North America. But, unfortunately, we also noticed it is a rather big book to carry around on bird-watching trips.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • It has detailed information about more than 700 bird species
  • Excellent illustrations and photos that make bird identification easier
  • Comprehensive feeding habits, vocalization, and range maps

Cons

  • A bit bulky

2. Roger Peterson: Field Guide To Birds Of North America

Sale
Peterson Field Guide To Birds Of North America, Second Edition (Peterson Field Guides)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Peterson, Roger Tory (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 520 Pages - 04/07/2020 (Publication Date) - Mariner Books (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Written by Roger Tory Peterson, our second-best field guide covers hundreds, if not thousands, of bird species from Northern America, including Hawaii. Unfortunately, the field guide does not cover Mexico.

Image Credits: ebay.com

Still, we were introduced to the best exotic bird facts, including feeding patterns, range maps, bird colors, feather patterns, habitats, and more. The bird guide has a total of 520 pages, and many of these are dedicated to full-color images and illustrations that make bird identification a breeze.

Unfortunately, like our first recommendation above, we found this bird-watching field guide a bit bulky to carry around in the field. However, this Peterson guide is available in Kindle format.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Available in Kindle and Paperback formats
  • Ideal for young or beginning birders, thanks to full-color photos and illustrations
  • Comprehensive details about wild and exotic birds of North America and Hawaii

Cons

  • It does not cover Mexican birds
  • A bit bulky when you consider portability

3. National Geographic's Field Guide To The Birds of North America

Sale
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition
  • Alderfer, Jonathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 592 Pages - 09/12/2017 (Publication Date) - National Geographic (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

When learning about wild animals, you will have no better research resource than National Geographic. We wouldn't miss a chance to recommend them for wildlife exploration, which is why this National Geographic guide is a must-have.

Image Credits: nationalgeographic.com

We found the guide easy to understand as we discovered more about birds inhabiting the land from Mexico to Central North America. The book features everything you would want to know about birds, even those traveling from other countries and continents during different seasons.

If you are a young birder, nothing will make more sense when learning about birds than detailed illustrations. Luckily, National Geographic's field guide has over 1000 bird species illustrations spread across its 592 pages. You can get it in hardcover or paperback format, but we found the former a little heavier.

Pros

  • Available in hardcover and paperback formats
  • Provides information about 1,023 species
  • Hundreds of range maps
  • Birding experts vet all content
  • The guide has over 1000 life-like illustrations from the best nature artists

Cons

  • The hardcover format is heavy and expensive

4. The Sibley Guide to Birds: Second Edition

Sale
The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition (Sibley Guides)
  • Sibley Guide To Birds, 2nd Ed
  • Sibley, David Allen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 624 Pages - 03/11/2014 (Publication Date) - Knopf (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Here is the challenge with most bird field guides; the most famous, like the Peterson guides, are rarely updated quickly enough. We recognize how inconveniencing it can be to see birds you cannot identify, so we sought to find the best-updated field guide.

Image Credits: siblyguides.com

We were lucky enough to find this Sibley guide that may have all the information about birds you can find in the country today. In addition to bird habits, habitats, and voice descriptions, we highly recommend this guide for its detailed illustrations.

In its 624 pages, this field guide features more than 7,000 digitally remastered paintings. We compared these paintings to images we have of live birds, and true to the description, the illustrations are very accurate and detailed for best bird identification.

Pros

  • The best bird field guide for detailed illustrations
  • It features natural habitat and voice description information
  • It is updated to include more rare and common species
  • The field guide includes 700 updated maps of ranges so you can track species movements across seasons
  • Affordable

Cons

  • A bit bulky

5. Field Guide to North American Birds- National Audubon Society

Sale
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region, Revised Edition
  • Author: National Audubon Society
  • ISBN: 9780679428527
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 800 Pages - 09/27/1994 (Publication Date) - Knopf (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

We get it; you don't want a heavy guide that could quickly wear you down when bird watching. However, while we did not like this guide's size, we found it the most detailed of many options. The field guide provides detailed descriptions of bird species across Eastern and Western North America.

Image Credits: audubon.org

The text in the guide has information about any bird's habitat, nesting habits, voice, migration range, and other unique behaviors. In addition, you will also find detailed range maps and more about which endangered species to look for.

But, what we found the most interesting was the detailed photographic identifications set on the guide's vinyl pages. On top of that, the photos are presented in full color, so you will not miss any detail, a feature we love most for feather identifications. If you need such a field guide, you can get this one in Kindle, Turtleback, or Paperback formats.

Pros

  • The field guide has the most detailed, full-color bird photographs for easy identification
  • The vinyl pages are very durable
  • The bird photos are accompanied by bird-identifying features like vocalization, nesting habits, travel ranges, habitats, and more
  • Affordable and available in different formats

Cons

  • It felt bulky for bird-watching trips

6. National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America, Second Edition

Sale
National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America, Second Edition
  • Alderfer, Jonathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages - 03/06/2018 (Publication Date) - National Geographic Kids (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Bird field guides are a good way to introduce children to common and exotic birds in the country. Now, if your little one is interested in birds and bird-watching, we found this National Geographic field guide a great way to nurture their interest.

Image Credits: nationalgeographic.com

The guide uses simple-to-read language, but it is the photography we found most fascinating. The guide has life-like, full-color images of birds in their habitat, a design leveled to captivate young readers full of imagination. In addition to the photos, the guide is filled with bird fun facts and craft activities to keep young birders engaged.

The guide has over 50 American bird profiles plus a mini coverage of another 100 bird species worldwide. The Paperback and Library binding formats are affordable, but we only recommend the guide for children.

Pros

  • It is the best bird field guide for kids
  • Uses the best photos to educate young birders
  • Features profiles of 150 birds
  • Available in two formats
  • Affordable
  • Quite portable
  • Features fun facts and birding activities to engage children

Cons

  • It is only ideal for your readers under 9 years old

Factors to Consider When Buying the Best Field guide for Birds

Image Credits: birderslibrary.com

So, there you have it, the six best field guides for birds of North America and other regions. This list is ideal for all, including kids and beginning birders. However, we still provided six options, and we understand you might need to narrow your purchase to one book.

If you are still unsure which one to buy, we recommend considering the following:

a) Who Are You Buying For?

Image Credits: unsplash.com

With the many benefits of bird watching, this hobby accommodates everyone, from children to adults and ornithologists. So, as you look for the best field guide, it might be best to understand who you're buying for.

If buying for a child, we recommend looking for a guide labeled for kids. Often, this field guide will feature the best illustrations, fun facts, and even craft ideas to engage young minds. However, a child's guide will not go too deep into species accounts, which you will need to find in a more advanced copy for adults.

If you want to buy one for an ornithologist, you will need the most detailed description, including bird anatomies, life cycles and reproduction, habitats, and more.

b) Organization

Image Credits: oftravelsandtrails.com

These field guides are organized in different ways, depending on who the guide is made for. For instance, children's guides will mostly be organized by bird colors. In addition, more advanced guides for adults will be organized by species and habitats.

Finally, the most advanced guides for ornithologists can be organized into very specific categories, such as families and related species.

c) Portability

Image Credits: unsplash.com

When buying a field guide, we recommend paying more attention to its size as it determines how easy it is to bring along on your trips. But, before you rule any options out, also consider where you go to watch birds.

For example, portability will not be a big issue if you need a guide to help you identify backyard birds. However, we recommend going for a lightweight guide if you need to carry it far from home, so you can easily use it along with your notebook or pair of binoculars.

d) Imagery

Image Credits: unsplash.com

One of the main features that help you identify birds is imagery. So, as you buy the best bird field guide, have an idea of the type of imagery that would make identifying birds easier.

When testing the different field guides above, we found two types of imagery; photos and illustrations. In some cases, it is possible to find field guides with photos and illustrations.

If torn between the best option, understand none is necessarily better than the other. For instance, photos are life-like and represent what you will find in the wild. But on the other hand, illustrations highlight the most outstanding features of a bird. So, you might find it easier to use illustrations to identify birds of the same family.

Photo of author

About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books

Leave a Comment