More than 10 years in the making, David Sibley's Guide to Birds is a monumental achievement.
The beautiful watercolor illustrations (6,600, covering 810 species in North America) and clear, descriptive text place Sibley and his work squarely in the tradition of John James Audubon and Roger Tory Peterson; more than a birdwatcher and evangelizer, he is one of the foremost bird painters and authorities in the U.S.
Still, his field guide will no doubt spark debate.
Unlike Kenn Kaufman's Focus Guide, Sibley's is unapologetically aimed at the converted.
Beginning birders may want to keep a copy of Sibley at home as a reference, but the wealth of information will have the same effect on novices as trying to pick out a single sandpiper in a wheeling flock of thousands.
The familiar yellow warbler, for instance, gets no less than nine individual illustrations documenting its geographic, seasonal, and sex variations--plus another eight smaller illustrations showing it in flight.
Of course, more experienced birders will appreciate this sort of detail, along with Sibley's improvements on both Peterson and the National Geographic guide: As in Peterson, Sibley employs a pointer system for key field markings--but additional text blurbs are included alongside the illustrations to facilitate identification.
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