Christmas is coming, and so is Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and lots and lots of birthdays. What are you going to get for the birders in your life? If you’re not sure yet, we can help. Presenting our annual series of posts suggesting theÂ books,Â optics, cameras,Â gear, andÂ memberships guaranteed to thrill avian enthusiasts of every age. Today and for the rest of the week, we’ll offer some guidance into these various gift categories.
The easiest gift to buy for a birder is a book.Â There are so many fantastic options available, from field guides to fiction, that you can’t go wrong.
When it comes to books, the first name in North American birding is still Sibley. The Sibley Guide to Birds is the single most beloved book in the field, the “birder’s bible.” If you are looking for a gift for a birder, check to see if he or she has this magnificent tome. If not, buy it at once. You will be loved forever. Birders who already have the Sibley Guide may appreciate other more advanced books by Sibley. You might consider The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior or Sibley’s Birding Basics. Sibley also offers field guides filled with the same exceptional illustrations that grace his larger guides.Â Field guides are organized based on geography, so choose either the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern or Western North America.
Every birder needs at least one trusty field guide. There are a number of excellent field guide series, distinguished primarily by the way each one presents pictures of birds. Some field guides employ illustrations and some use photos. It’s hard to say which is better. We’ve determined that we favor illustrations which makes the Sibley guides our first choice for field use. When we started, though, we found the National Audubon Society Field Guides to North American Birds: Eastern Region and Western Region more accessible because they use photographs.
If you are interested in other illustrated field guides to the birds of North America, you might consider the National Geographic Field Guide To The Birds of North America, 4th Edition or any of the very popular guides illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson, such as A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America or A Field Guide to Western Birds : A Completely New Guide to Field Marks of All Species Found in North America West of the 100th Meridian and North of Mexico.
A field guide to a new, upcoming destination is a superb gift for anyone with at least a passing interest in birds. Once one has been bitten by the birding bug, one of the chief thrills of foreign travel is the appreciation of exotic avifauna. We’ve had great success with A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas: Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador, Third Edition and, more recently, A Guide To The Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. A tome I’m really interested in getting my hands on in preparation for future travels is The Complete Guide to the Birds of Europe, also known as the Collins Guide, reputed to be the absolute authority on birds of that continent.
Birding lends itself to art as well as science.Â The big birding book last year was Tim Gallagher’s The Grail Bird, the definitive narrative of one of the most exciting ornithological discoveries in recent U.S. history (read my review). Ivory-billed Woodpecker aficionados will thrill to this first-hand account of the discovery of the Lord God Bird in an Arkansas bottomland swamp. As much as I loved that book, I enjoyed How To Be A (Bad) Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes even more (read my review). Barnes is a passionate, persuasive birdwatcher, one so in love with avifauna that he wants to share his great joy with others. Like a sinner who’s been Born Again, Barnes proselytizes fervently in an effort to lead the rest of us to heaven. His version of paradise, however, is right here on Earth. To find it, all one need do, he says, is look up. To round out this trio of birding narratives, give some thought to The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner (read my review). This charming and true tale, subtitled A Love Storyâ€¦With Wings, describes how a lost soul found his life completely changed by a colony of wild parrots in San Francisco. Bittner’s experience is also recounted in a highly acclaimed documentary of the same name, now available on DVD.
Speaking of DVDs, a birding video is a perfect gift for any birder. Some birding videos help by getting that first awkward sighting of a new species out of the way to make sure that, if you get only one look at a bird, you’ll be able to make it count. By focusing on distinctive marks, behavior, and song, a video can lead a birder from uncertainty to certainty even when it comes to rarities.
The Watching Birds videos produced by skilled wildlife documentarians, Michael Male and Judy Fieth are amazing. This series of instructional birding videos is revelatory, especially for those looking for exposure to many new North American species. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed Watching Warblers (read our review here) and Watching Sparrows. Other videos available at Blue Earth Films include Watching Waders and, hopefully soon, Watching Warblers West. These videos come highly recommended.
No discussion of birding videos is complete without a mention of the definitive series on the most colorful, popular and perfectly adapted creatures on earth. I’m speaking, of course, about Sir David Attenborough’s masterpiece, The Life of Birds. We received this DVD box set one Christmas and enjoyed it all year long. Each of the 10 episodes of The Life of Birds focuses on a different aspect of bird behavior. Titles like “To Fly or Not to Fly,” “The Insatiable Appetite,” “Signals and Songs,” and “The Limits of Endurance” underscore how thoroughly this series addresses each aspect of avian life. The camera work is masterful, but the work succeeds wildly because of the influence of Sir David, probably the world’s most prominent wildlife documentarian. His obvious enthusiasm for his subject marks him as a true birder. The Life of Birds traverses the globe to present the most fascinating species from every continent. If the birder in your life doesn’t have this incredible series yet, you should rectify that immediately!
So if you’re uncertain about what the birders in your life might want, you’ll always be safe with a book. If literature doesn’t strike your fancy though, stay tuned. Tomorrow, we’ll look (pun intended) at optics.