National Geo’s Birding Essentials

Are you interested in birding but don’t really know much about it? Did you just put a feeder outside and noticed that birds are interesting, or did you finally get around to stopping at that wildlife refuge you drive by every week on the way to the casino and realize that walking down to the swamp to look at birds and stuff is both better exercise and cheaper than playing slot machines for nine hours straight? Or have you been birding in a casual way for a while, using your Uncle Ned’s old binoculars and a tattered and torn Peterson you found on the sale table at the library, and want to find out which aspects of birding you are missing out on? Filling in the blank spots in your knowledge of birding is easy given how willing birders and writers about birding are to tell everybody else about birding, and it is probably even easier to do with a book like “National Geographic Birding Essentials.”

(Full disclosure, I write for National Geographic’s Science Blogs, sure, but really, I have nothing to do with this book. I didn’t even get it as review copy, someone gave it to me for Christmas last year.)

As you know, in the beginning of almost every bird guide is a chapter (or two) on how to do the whole birding thing, some more extensive and some less extensive. The most extensive and useful for the novice that I know of is the front matter in The Young Birder’s Guide, which I highly recommend for middle school or so aged potential birders. Well, Birding Essentials is like that first chapter but in the form of a whole book. Here’s what you need to do to see if you should get a copy of this book and spend a few hours with it. Look at the following list of topics and see if you feel like you know enough about most of them, or not:

  • Binoculars, how to chose one and how to use them.
  • Field guide basics, how to use them, etc.
  • Understanding status and distribution of a bird species
  • Details and terminology of migration, nesting, and other patterns of movement and migration
    Parts of the bird. Here’s a short list of parts. If you don’t know them, you don’t really know the parts:
    • lores
    • eye line
    • supercilium
    • lesser and greater coverts
    • tertials
  • Colors and patterns. Bird color terms are atypical.
  • Methods of identification using field marks
  • Variation in bird features (sexual dimorphism included)
  • There’s more, including strategies for approaching the field adventure that is birding, and dealing with rare variants, and so on.

    Excellent birdy bedside reading, but mainly for the novice birder. If you work with bird watching in a science classroom, this is probably a good volume to have handy; tell your librarian to get it.

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