How to Know the Birds

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading How to Know the BirdsHow to Know the Birds: The Art and Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd
on March 12, 2019
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by National Geographic Society
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Become a better birder with brief portraits of 200 top North American birds. This friendly, relatable book is a celebration of the art, science, and delights of bird-watching.

How to Know the Birds introduces a new, holistic approach to bird-watching, by noting how behaviors, settings, and seasonal cycles connect with shape, song, color, gender, age distinctions, and other features traditionally used to identify species. With short essays on 200 observable species, expert author Ted Floyd guides us through a year of becoming a better birder, each species representing another useful lesson: from explaining scientific nomenclature to noting how plumage changes with age, from chronicling migration patterns to noting hatchling habits. Dozens of endearing pencil sketches accompany Floyd's charming prose, making this book a unique blend of narrative and field guide. A pleasure for birders of all ages, this witty book promises solid lessons for the beginner and smiles of recognition for the seasoned nature lover.

Goodreads

This winter I finally got birds to come to my bird feeders after years of trying.  I was excited to see this book on a book tour. I’m not good at identifying any species other than the ones children would know.  

I was surprised to see that this book isn’t a field guide like I assumed it would be.  Instead, this book teaches you through a series of essays how to be a birder.  

It starts with a description of a day hike the author and his son take to watch birds.  He explains how birding has changed over the years.  While it may annoy traditionalists, today’s bird watcher generally considers uploading photos and song recording to social media and apps like EBird to be essential parts of the experience.  I think that this is a logical extension of the practice of journaling what birds you see that has been practiced forever.  (I put the book down to download the apps he discussed to help identify birds and to log where and when they were seen.  Technology helps.  There are apps that let you upload pictures and help you identify what you are seeing.) 

The next part of the book teaches you what to look for when you are seeing birds.  It starts with birds that are likely familiar to anyone in the U.S. – robins, cardinals, etc.  There is a one-page essay on each that illustrates a concept in birding such as variations in plumage due to season, age, or sex.  As you move through each of the essays you learn about the science and ecology around bird life.  You see how birders think and how they approach the hobby.  

This is a book that should be savored over time more than read straight through like a novel.  It is formatted to take place over a year.  The simpler lessons are in the beginning of the book/year and get more complex as they go on and the reader has more practice identifying birds.  This book would be best for a beginner birder but experienced birders may enjoy the stories that go along with the descriptions of the birds.