Birds of Western North America – A Photographic Guide by Paul Sterry & Brian E Small Princeton UP 2009 ISBN 9780691134277

The book combines informative and accessible text, up-to-date maps, and color photographs, and is certainly the best and most lavishly illustrated photographic guide to the birds of western North America that I have seen. To be honest I am no fan of photographic field guides but this does stand head and shoulders above most in two vital respects. Firstly, it does its best to pose bird families in similar positions throughout. Secondly, these are definitely the sharpest photos I’ve seen used in a guide so have a lot of the crispness of painted illustrations and this allows close comparison of ID features. Many of the images are state-of-the-art digital photographs by Brian Small, one of North America’s finest bird photographers. These pictures, many seen here for the first time, reproduce a previously unimaginable level of detail. All of the images have been carefully selected to highlight the key identification features of each bird. Wherever possible, a variety of plumages are pictured, providing visual coverage and usefulness matching any artwork-illustrated field guide. It does fall down on some migrants in as much as it doesn’t show them in the season they are not in North America. A parochial approach that forgets that some of us take a N American guide to the neo-tropics if visiting in winter.

Finally, the ranges of nearly all species are shown on maps from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the authority on North American birding.

I think there is definitely a place for this volume, not perhaps for the most experienced birder but certainly useful for the visiting birder or anyone not familiar with all species.

This would not push Sibley off my shelf but is better than any other photographic guide to the area that I’ve seen


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