Getting Started: Field Guides

With a field guide in hand you won't have to guess what species of hawk this is!

There are several great options for field guides to birding, each with its own approach to telling the story and characteristics of the birds that can be seen in a given location. When you're getting started, it is a good idea to get a continental guide, which shows all the birds of North America, and also a local guide, which shows only the birds that can be seen in your region.

Tips on choosing a field guide

  • Take a look at the different guides available. Some use photographs of birds, while others use illustrations. Compare, and decide which one is more helpful to you.
  • Consider what the different guides offer. Some show how birds look in flight, and other distinguishing characteristics. Some give added information on behavior and song.
  • While more information is generally better, the size of the guide matters too. If you plan on walking around while birding, you may want to get a more compact guide. One solution is to get a more compact guide to local birds, or even just a checklist, and use your continental guide as a more detailed reference.

Digital birding guides 

In addition to printed birding field guides there are now digital guides for smart phones and tablet computers. These guides, in addition to having bird descriptions, photos and range maps, also have the ability to play bird songs in the field, which can be helpful in identifying shy species. There are several available, including this one from the Audubon Society.

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