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Sibley's Birding Basics
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A Review of Sibleys Birding Basics by David Allen Sibley


Do you need a bird guide that is completely different from existing guidebooks? Sibleys Birding Basics contains far more information than any other field guide, relies much more on illustrations, and shows more plumages, more subspecies, and many more birds in flight than any previous book, all of these condensed into a portable size. This information is also accessible to any reader. So, if you would like to know all about birds and bird watching , read this great little book which is also an art book in itself!

Reviewed by Liana Metal


By David Allen Sibley

Alfred A.Knopf, Publisher of Borzoi Books, a Division of Random House,Inc., 299 Park Avenue, New York 10171, , 2002

ISBN 0-375-70966-5, 160 pp, USA $ 15.95, CAN $ 23.95

Very Highly RecommendedDavid Allen Sibley, artist, naturalist, and birder has published two more books related to birds that have become bestsellers. The son of Yale ornithologist, Fred Sibley, he was born in New York and has been watching and drawing birds since he was seven years old. His illustrations have appeared in many publications, from newsletters to national magazines such as Bird Watchers Digest, Birding, The Nature Conservancy, and Audubon.More of Mr. Sibleys artwork can be seen on his web site,

He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and their two sons.

SIBLEYS BIRDING BASICS is a pocket-sized book, the first easily portable guide to all the skills you need to identify a bird in the few moments its in your view! In this book, David is concerned with the general characteristics that influence the appearance of all birds and give us clues to their identity. It includes 125 full-color illustrations and is specially designed for use in the field.

The book is divided into 16 chapters. At the Introduction, the author explains what exactly bird-watching is and where it can be done.

This book is about interpreting what you see and hear in order to make better judgments, David says. This is not a guide to the identification of any specific birds. It is designed to promote a general understanding of the challenges of identification , and an understanding of how our impressions of the birds are shaped by the environment and the birds behavior.

In the first chapter ,Getting Started, the author says:

Whether you can identify six birds or six hundred, youll be a better birder if you have a grounding in the real nuts and bolts of what birds look like, and your skills will be even sharper if you know exactly what to look for and how to record what you see.

He writes about the equipment necessary, where and when to go birding and a lot of other useful information:

Browsing technical journals can provide insights and bits of information that will help you to understand the birds and their identification.

Finding Birds is the second chapter , where David gives the readers useful tips and advice:

Of course, it is not essential to go out into the woods and marshes and stalk birds. By providing food, water , and cover, you can bring many species of birds into your yard, where they can be studied at close range and watched at leisure.

Keeping Records, Field Notes and Sketching are all valuable subchapters to read.

The Challenges of Bird Identification comes next, dealing with the development of birding skills and its benefits.

For the birder, one of the practical benefits of studying birds more closely is that the more precisely you define each species, the more accurate your identification will be, the author says. Sorting Skills and Birds Differences lead to the right identification.

The next chapter is about Misidentification. Here the author tries to sort out the problems of poor or brief bird observation.

Unfortunately, it is easy to bias your own observations through a sloppy or casual approach, David says. Identifying Rare Birds, Taxonomy, and Using Behavioral Clues follow, offering more details:

Birds are often seen in flight, and you can learn to identify flying birds, but to do so you must know the Basics. Plumage patterns and bill shape can be seen in surprising detail on flying birds, as can leg length, the author says.

The Voice comes next, and its very interesting to learn all about it:

Listen to the overall pitch and to changes in pitch, noting whether the song varies widely from high to low pitch or is more even..., David goes on , explaining in simple graphs the song of several species.

The following chapter is about Understanding Feathers. The authors sketches enlighten the description of several species. In the Feather Groups of a Passerine pages , David displays a detailed description of the bird supported by his fine drawings , and labeling of feathers. Davids sketches fill up the next pages and are explained in meticulous detail.

Feather Arrangement and Color Patterns , Structure of Tail and Wings and Bare Parts follow, while in chapter thirteen, Molt, the author explains everything about the process by which birds replace their feathers. More colorful sketches appear in this section, while moving to the 14th chapter, Feather Wear, the readers get informed about the wear of feathers and the changes in plumage throughout the year.

Age Variation follows, with more details on how to determine the age of a bird:

You can see how the progress of molt leaves clues that allow a birder to determine the age of a hawk. A complete set of juvenal feathers indicates a bird in its first year of life, David says.

In the last chapter, Ethics and Conservation, David Sibley motivates the readers to support habitat preservation work locally. Your support of local, national, and international conservation organizations is also important, he says. He also displays some addresses related to conservancy , as well as their URLs.

The book ends with a list of Latin Names for Species Mentioned in the Text, and a note about the author.

SIBLEYS BIRDING BASICS is a well-organized pocket-guide book, clearly laid-out, scientifically precise and beautifully illustrated.

It caters for everyone, not just the ones who take up Birding as a hobby. It is highly educational and children can equally enjoy it and benefit from it , as well as adults.

I wrote and illustrated this book to help every inquisitive birder, from novice to expert, the author says.

The sketches throughout the book are not only helpful but show the authors exceptional talent in fine arts , too. It is worth having this book, not only for the interesting information on birds, but also for keeping it on your bookshelf as an art book.

David Allen Sibley is available for interviews. He is willing to lead you on a walk, show you his painting technique, or simply whistle. Please contact us if you are interested.

Kathryn Zuckerman

Allison McGeehon

Related Titles

By David Allen Sibley:The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2000

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, 2001







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