BOOKS: National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:

National Geographic Field Guide
to the Birds of North America
Fifth Edition
Edited by Jon L. Dunn & Jonathan Alderfer
502 pages, paperback. $24.00.

National Geographic Birder’s Journal
502 pages, paperback. $16.95.

Both from the National Geographic Society
(1145 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036), 2006.
How many National Geographic Society birding manuals can one
person use?
For that matter, how many birding manuals from the many
rival publishers can possibly find an audience?
According to the publisher’s flack sheet, there are now from
46 million to 85 million birders in the U.S., depending on whether
one counts only those who buy field guides and keep life lists of
species seen, or includes everyone who watches and identifies
interesting birds now and then.

Further, as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age,
the numbers of active birders are expected to expand to about 128
million –comparable to the numbers of people who share their homes
with cats and dogs.
“Forty percent of birders travel more than a mile from
home to bird,” says the flack sheet. “On average, bird enthusiasts
spend 120 days a year observing birds around the home, and 17 days
on bird-watching trips.”
By those standards, and assuming that all trips
including a substantial amount of time watching birds qualify, even
if they have a different primary purpose, I’m in the 40%, and have
been for much of my life. I watch birds almost every day, mentally
identify most of those I see, and reach for a birding reference
about once a week.
Yet even at this relatively high level of interest, I
cannot imagine myself needing or wanting a birding library as
extensive and overlapping as the National Geographic Society now
offers, apparently trying to repackage every scrap of information to
fill every possible market niche.
Having reviewed the National Geographic Complete Birds of
North America and the National Geographic Field Guide to
Birds–Washington & Oregon in April 2006, I was quite surprised in
October to receive the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds
of North America and National Geographic Birder’s Journal. They
seemed, at a glance, to be heavily redundant.
And I do mean heavily. The Field Guide to Birds is not
remarkably different in content or organization from competitor
volumes, but it is among the heftier field guides around. The one
time I actually took it outside, I dropped it in the mud, learning
the hard way that it is not to be managed with just one hand. It
also lands on one’s toes with a substantial impact.
The Field Guide to Birds does, however, have the virtue of
presenting the range maps of birds on the same pages as their
pictures. That eliminates the problem presented by some other field
guides of having to look in two different places to see if X species
could really appear in Y location.
The Birder’s Journal turns out to be handy for persons
interested in compiling a life list, which seems to include most
male birders, as well as many women. The length of one’s life list
is the currency of status among birders, many of whom take up
birding as a use in retirement for the competitive drive that they
formerly applied to careers in business, law, and finance.
Included in The Birder’s Journal are sketches of all 967 bird
species considered native to North America, opposite pages in which
the birder can record the date, time, and place of each sighting,
along with any other relevant notes.
This is a very neat, handy, organized way to collect
information that birders formerly kept on index cards or in notebooks
and looseleaf binders.
Compiling a life list has so far never seemed to me worth
doing. To my birding friends, this confirms my status as a common
loon. If I were going to do it, though, this is how I would begin.

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