A few days ago, I posted a link to Will Grant’s review of the 2nd edition of David Sibley’s Guide to Birds entitled “The Only Bird Book You Need.” This prompted an email from a colleague asking simply, “Is this so?” Here was my response:
I’ll give a qualified “no.” It’s an outstanding field guide but it’s not the only one you need (if your goal is to become a proficient birder). It’s also, of design, pretty much devoid of any information on habitat use. In that regard, it’s good for removing perceived habitat as a bias in identification, but beginners can really benefit from developing those biases before reaching a point at which they can overcome them. (If that makes any sense.) I benefited greatly from the text in my old Golden Guide (thank you, Chan Robbins!) that helped me really learn about these birds – what they did and where they might be found – in addition to what they looked like.
Here’s the qualified part:
If I had to choose just one of my many field guides, it would of course be Sibley’s. It is far and away the most complete and accurate source of information to assist in the identification of North American birds.
PS: Do not carry this guide – or any guide – with you in the field. Use your field guide as a reference that you study before heading out and after to help you identify whatever thing you couldn’t. When you’re in the field, have some kind of notebook and pencil with you to sketch (even schematically) what you see. That’s the best way to train yourself to be looking at the right things!