The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds is undoubtedly the most innovative avian reference guide to come along in many years. In fact, the guide represents such a bold leap forward that reading it makes one wonder what the future of bird guides holds. This is why we asked readers to share their views on the NEXT big step in bird guide design, philosophy, or technology as part of our Fun, Fun, Fun Crossley ID Guide Giveaway. This is the final entry in a three-part series discussing those predictions:

Most of the influential North American bird reference guides (The Sibley Guide to Birds and A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America dominate different portions of the continent) are expansive keys to the full array of avian species of either all or a portion of the contiguous landmass. Other notable guides to continents, countries, and regions outside of North America (the illustrious Collins Guide comes to mind) take an equally broad view of birds. Specialized guides rarely seem to capture the imagination as effectively as the more holistic references. For example, I found Gulls of the Americas by Howell and Dunn (2007) a superb specialized guide, but wonder how many would be gullers use or are even aware of it today.

Ironically, the most popular specialized bird guide in the American market today is the The Shorebird Guide by O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson. Perhaps this is why, when asked about the future of field guides in our Crossley ID Guide Giveaway, so many suggested the future is specialization:

I believe the future of bird guides will consist of specialist guides which will focused on sparrows, gulls, etc.  There are a few guides that cover these groups; however they fall incredibly short of a field guide.  Many make great reference books on the book shelf, but carrying a hard-cover mammoth in the field pack is far from ideal.  Also many of these books use photos which, although they’re great to look at, don’t always help the birder clinch an ID.  Designed by leading field guide authors in their respective styles, it would provide an incredible tool for birders.

I think what birders need, and where there’s room for growth is in specialty guides.  Guides that focus on sparrows and warblers, that feature male/female, spring/fall plumages, etc. would be very helpful.  There are books available for these, but I yet to see anything spectacular.

For the future of guides, I’d have to say finer detail for problem groups such as sparrows and gulls.  Not many of the mainstream guides have all the plumage variations and view angles.

Future field guides have much room to grow in guides focuses on families of birds.  One example is sparrows.  I have yet to find a quality guide on sparrows and such a guide would be very helpful for us who are obsessed with the little brown birds.

I think there’s room to grow as far as specialty guides to sparrows and warblers…one that has all plumages and shows them at different angles.  This would be very helpful.  Thanks.

I think that specialty guides need to catch up on the general guides.  Gulls with more plumage drawings and more angles would be very helpful.  Also Sparrows.  Thanks.

Gulls, sparrows, and wood warblers dominate the discussion here. Apart from the aforementioned Gulls of the Americas, I strongly recommend the videos produced by Judy Feith and Michael Male at for pre-trip prep. I love Watching Warblers and Watching Warblers WEST (click links for my reviews). Stay tuned for Corey’s review of the equally exceptional Watching Sparrows.

What specialized bird reference resources do you love? What specialized guides do you need?

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.