Better birding Tips, tools, and concepts for the field

George L. Armistead

Book - 2016

"Reveals the techniques expert birders use to identify a wide array of bird species in the field ... Featuring hundreds of ... photos and composite plates throughout, this book simplifies identification by organizing the birds you see into groupings and offering strategies specifically tailored to each group. Skill-building focuses not just on traditional elements such as plumage, but also on creating a context around each bird, including habitat, behavior, and taxonomy"--Page 4 of

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2nd Floor 598.07234/Armistead Checked In
Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press [2016]
Physical Description
318 pages : color illustrations, color maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
George L. Armistead (author)
Other Authors
Brian L. Sullivan, 1971- (author)
  • Introduction. Wide-angle birding: be the bird, see the bird ; Becoming a "good birder": understanding the basics ; Birding mentors ; Why birding is cool
  • Waterbirds. Loons ; Swans ; Mallard and monochromatic "mallards" ; White herons
  • Coastal birds. Eiders ; Brachyramphus murrelets ; Pacific cormorants
  • Seabirds. Sulids: northern gannet and boobies ; Tropical terns ; Atlantic gadflies
  • Large shorebirds. Curlews ; Godwits
  • Skulkers. Marsh sparrows ; Small wrens (troglodytes and cistothorus)
  • Birds of forest and edge. Accipiters ; American rosefinches
  • Aerial insectivores. Swifts
  • Night birds. Screech-owls: an "otus" and the megascops ; Nighthawks
  • Open-country birds. Yellow-bellied kingbirds ; Black corvids: crows and ravens ; Pipits ; Longspurs ; Cowbirds.
Review by Booklist Reviews

By using nine general groups of North American birds to offer advice on sorting among the species possibilities, the editors' plan is to guide people to be better birders, no matter which other birds they observe—even those groups and species not included here. The very readable text is dense and replete with species information and advice on what one can see by taking a wider perspective while birding. Much of the text is about behavior, habitat, and "GISS"—a general impression of shape and size. The entries include sidebars of natural history or taxonomic notes, often about relationships among species or specific characteristics of this group. Vagrant species are sometimes included because their characteristics are often confusing to many bird-watchers. The hundreds of photographs are interspersed with lovely portraits at the beginning of each group or subgroup. Some groups are augmented with double-page composite images of several similar species in flight in appropriate perspective. The differences one can see at a distance are noted in the long captions. For example, the first subgroup of "Coastal Birds" are the eiders. The elegant photo of a male "Pacific Common Eider" precedes general information about this subgroup, photos and discussion of plumage variation, hints and considerations when observing this subgroup, identification characteristics of the four eider species, and the double-page composite spread of the four species flying close by and at a distance against a seascape. Each subgroup concludes with a list of references. Though not a field guide, this is a well-produced reference for the novice and expert birder alike and a desirable addition to most libraries. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

As the title suggests, Better Birding focuses on improving skills and becoming a "good birder."  Aimed at advanced birders, the book offers new ways to think about identifying selected groups of species.  It focuses on only 24 groups of North American birds, so it is by no means comprehensive.  Armistead (American Birding Assoc.; Drexel Univ.) and Sullivan (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) emphasize a holistic approach toward identification and strongly encourage spending time observing and understanding a species.  In addition to typical field marks, behavioral cues and habitat are discussed.  Each chapter includes general information about the group in question, along with a "Hints and Considerations" section for differentiating species and an in-depth "Identification" section.  Species profiles and a list of references follow.  This is a lovely book; it is profusely illustrated with color photographs, a number of which show various views of similar bird species in flight on two-page spreads.  A similar title is Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding, by Kenn Kaufman (CH, Sep'11, 49-0269), which is more comprehensive in its coverage of the more problematic groups of birds to identify. Summing Up: Recommended. All natural history library collections. Copyright 2016 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In this instructive text, expert birders Armistead (American Birding Assn.; research associate, ornithology dept., Academy of Natural Sciences, Drexel Univ.) and Sullivan (photo editor, Birds of North America Online, Cornell Lab of Ornithology) recommend a wide-angle approach to improving birding skills as opposed to a narrow "feather-by-feather" method. According to the authors, accomplished birders "zoom out" and practice GISS, a method in which they consider the general impression, size, and shape of the bird. They make use of other "big picture" traits as well, including habitat, range, and seasonability. The book features 24 bird species from the continental United States and Canada. The selected populations are intended to help readers gain knowledge in the authors' techniques. Not included are common birds such as the American robin or Northern cardinal, which are easily identified by nearly everyone. Each chapter provides background on the species, lifespan, and breeding habits, and a "Focus On" section with a brief list of the most pertinent traits on which to concentrate when learning about a particular group. Especially valuable are the many photographs showing similar birds for comparison, including pictures of the feathered creatures perching or standing, in the water, or in flight. Providing a foundation to improve readers' birdwatching abilities, the authors furthermore explain why birding is cool. VERDICT Recommended for all readers who wish to become better birders.—Dave Pugl, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL [Page 118]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Aiming to promote the development of a solid foundation for building field skills, veteran birders Armistead and Sullivan explain how to become a good birder: be a good bird watcher, which means preparing for the field, studying for the next venture outside, daydreaming about certain species and hoping for discoveries, and often keeping a list of species sighted over time. Filled with hundreds of color photos and composite plates, the book includes first breeding, breeding strategy, and life span, a natural history note, identification, varieties, and emphasizes the importance of habitat, taxonomy, and behavior in order to create the bird’s context. Ten chapters are: introduction; waterbirds; coastal birds; seabirds; large shorebirds; skulkers; birds of forest and edge; aerial insectivores; night birds; open-country birds. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Review by Publisher Summary 2

How to go from a beginner to an expert birderBetter Birding reveals the techniques expert birders use to identify a wide array of bird species in the field—quickly and easily. Featuring hundreds of stunning photos and composite plates throughout, this book simplifies identification by organizing the birds you see into groupings and offering strategies specifically tailored to each group. Skill building focuses not just on traditional elements such as plumage, but also on creating a context around each bird, including habitat, behavior, and taxonomy—parts so integral to every bird's identity but often glossed over by typical field guides. Critical background information is provided for each group, enabling you to approach bird identification with a wide-angle view, using your eyes, brain, and binoculars more strategically, resulting in a more organized approach to learning birds.Better Birding puts the thrill of expert bird identification within your reach.Reveals the techniques used by expert birders for quick and easy identificationSimplifies identification with strategies tailored to different groupings of birdsFeatures hundreds of photos and composite plates that illustrate the different techniquesFosters a wide-angle approach to field birdingProvides a foundation for building stronger birding skills