Resources for Birders
Field Guides for North America
Many North American field guides can be purchased for specific areas including all of North America, Eastern North America, and Western North America.
The Sibley Guide to Birds (2nd Edition) by David Allen Sibley
Used by millions of birders from novices to the most expert, The Sibley Guide became the standard by which natural history guides are measured. The drawings are very accurate and highlight all of the best identification points of each species. The text is also well written and extremely helpful. For our area, the East Coast version is recommended if you plan on carrying it in the field.
National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America (7th edition) by Jon Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer
This perennial bestseller is the most frequently updated of all North American bird field guides. The 7th edition includes 37 new species for a total of 1,023 species; 16 new pages allow for 250 fresh illustrations, 80 new maps, and 350 map revisions. It also contains taxonomy updated to the recent scientific rearrangement, the addition of standardized banding codes, and text completely vetted by birding experts.
National Audubon Society Birds of North America
The 2021 edition covers more than 800 species, with over 3,500 full-color photographs of birds in their natural habitat, often with four or five images of each species. Range maps, reflecting the impact of climate change, accompany nearly every entry, along with a physical description and information on voice, nesting, habitat, and similar species. This guide also includes an important new category on conservation status and essays by leading scholars in each field who provide holistic insights into the world of birds.
Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
The Peterson Guide was first published in 1934 and has undergone many revisions. The 2020 edition of the best-selling field guide contains 25 all-new plates covering the birds of Hawaii. The text and range maps have been updated, and much of the art has been touched up to reflect current knowledge.
The Crossley ID Guide by Richard Crossley
Unlike other guides, which provide isolated individual photographs or illustrations, this is the first book to feature large, lifelike scenes for each species. These scenes―640 in all―are composed from more than 10,000 of the author’s images showing birds in a wide range of views–near and far, from different angles, in various plumages and behaviors, including flight, and in the habitat in which they live. These beautiful compositions show how a bird’s appearance changes with distance, and give equal emphasis to characteristics experts use to identify birds: size, structure and shape, behavior, probability, and color. This is the first book to convey all of these features visually–in a single image–and to reinforce them with accurate, concise text.
Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman
His signature format of digitally enhanced photographs is now updated in the 2005 edition, with dozens of nomenclature changes; the addition of new species; and updated range maps. Additional information helps beginning birdwatchers get started, all in the same compact format that allows for fast identification in the field.
Other Helpful Books for New Birders
Sibley’s Birding Basics by David Allen Sibley
Birding Basics reviews how one can get started as a birder–the equipment necessary, where and when to go birding, and perhaps most important, the essential things to look for when birds appear in the field–as well as the basic concepts of bird identification and the variations that can change the appearance of a bird over time or in different settings. In 200 beautifully rendered illustrations and 16 essays, this scientifically precise volume distills the essence of Sibley’s own experience and skills, providing a solid introduction to “naming” the birds. Sibley also provides critical information on the aspects of avian life that differ from species to species: feathers (color, arrangement, shape, molt), behavior and habitat, and sounds.
New Birder’s Guide to Birds of North America by Bill Thompson III
Covering 300 of the most common birds in the United States and Canada, this guide has just the right amount of information about how to identify birds, where and when to look for them, what they sound like, and how they behave. The guide includes easy-to-understand descriptions and maps, clear photos, drawings of common and interesting behaviors, and fun facts for each bird, plus expert advice on identification basics, how to get started, and how to improve your birding skills.
Includes easy-to-understand descriptions and maps, clear photos, drawings of common and interesting behaviors of North American birds.
The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America by Don and Lillian Stokes
This guide is unique in that it features photographs instead of drawings, which beginning birders may find more helpful as they are starting out. The latest edition features 853 North American bird species and more than 3,400 photographs. The photographs cover all significant plumages, including male, female, summer, winter, immature, morphs, important subspecies, and birds in flight.
Computer, Tablet, and Phone Apps
Sibley eGuide to Birds (2nd Edition) (iOS and Android)
This is the electronic companion to The Sibley Guide to Birds. All of the content in the printed book is carried over to the electronic edition, which costs $20. In addition, the eGuide does things a printed book can’t do:
- Plays audio recordings of over 2300 different calls and songs, the most complete collection of North American bird sounds available in a single package
- Filters species to show only the birds found in a single state or province, or only the most commonly-seen species
- Filters species by color, shape, size, and habits
iBird (iOS and Android)
Released in 2008, iBird was the first comprehensive birding app for the iPhone loaded with features that inspired Apple to put iBird in their famous “We have an app for that” videos. iBird is available in Lite (free with in-app purchases) and Pro ($15) versions. iBird Pro is an extensive field guide and identification tool. The ID tool contains about three dozen different attributes to narrow down possibilities, making it useful for even the most advanced birder. Each bird listing comes with a beautiful illustration that can be easily overlaid with the bird’s field marks. Additional buttons allow you to access sounds, photos, range, similar species, more detailed ID notes, ecology, behavior, interesting facts, and more.
Audubon Bird Guide (iOS and Android)
The Audubon Bird Guide is a free and complete field guide to over 800 species of North American birds. Built for all experience levels, it will help you identify the birds around you, keep track of the birds you’ve seen, and get outside to find new birds near you.
Merlin (iOS and Android)
Merlin is a free app designed to be a birding coach for beginning and intermediate bird watchers. Merlin asks you to describe the color, size, and behavior of the bird you saw. Because no two people describe birds exactly the same way, Merlin presents a shortlist of possible species based on descriptions from Cornell Lab experts as well as thousands of bird enthusiasts who helped “teach” Merlin by participating in online activities. They’ve contributed more than 3 million descriptors to help Merlin match your input with the most likely birds. When you identify a species and click “This is My Bird,” Merlin also saves your record to help improve its future performance. The Photo ID feature in Merlin allows anyone with a camera to snap a photo and get a list of suggestions. Photo ID is yet another method to help you identify the birds you encounter.
Merlin can now help you identify the songs and calls of 400+ species in the United States and Canada (with more species and regions coming soon). In just a few taps, you’ll unlock a whole new world of bird songs. Every species you identify with the new Sound ID feature can also be saved to your life list, and you’ll be able to share the recordings you make with friends and family.
VFAS trip leader Eric Hughes presented a webinar on how to use the Merlin app. You can link to it here.
Cornell offers a free lecture on using Merlin. You can link to that here.
If you love birds, knowing bird songs and bird calls is like being able to speak their language. You can download different song packs and customize them to learn the bird songs you want or to get ready for that special birding trip. You can try the free demo at https://www.larkwire.com/web before purchasing. This app offers a variety of versions with different song packs available. The song pack for Eastern and Central North America has songs for 233 land birds and 1174 audio recordings. There is also a web-based “app”. Beginner level focuses on the easy, foundation songs; Intermediate level introduces more challenging songs; Advanced level offers nearly the full complexity of field birding.
Chirp! Bird Songs & Calls USA (iOS)
This $4 app lets you listen to and learn over 300 bird songs and calls from across the continental United States, with up to 34 seconds of song for each bird, and alternative recordings for some birds. The songs and calls are of the highest quality, most provided by the world-renowned Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
On first use, Chirp! selects birds for your current location, but then you are free to select any state (or group of states) on the Map Screen, to learn the common species from east to west and north to south. Or you may prefer to select all birds to learn the whole range! Try sorting by song style, so that you can compare birds that hoot and coo, or those with high pitched songs for example. If you are a beginner, sort the birds by commonness, so you can listen to the most common ones first, then move on to less frequent backyard visitors.
After listening, try the quiz to test your memory. Experienced birders can use the custom quiz to help distinguish and learn similar songs.
The Warbler Guide (iOS and Android)
This $13 app lets you look at and learn about warblers from every possible angle. It gives you the option of viewing warblers as if you were standing underneath them — one of six different perspectives to choose from. Using elegant graphical interfaces and terrific illustrations, The Warbler Guide lets you narrow down which warblers you might see according to location and season. It groups warblers by the kinds of calls they make — with three different variables. Most importantly, it contains a great library of songs and calls to help you pick out what you might be hearing.
Raptor ID (iOS and Android)
A project of HawkWatch International and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Raptor ID caters to birders with special interest in diurnal raptors. With its elegant design and wonderful Home button, this free app allows you to learn about 34 species of North American raptors easily, see what they look like, and hear their calls.
eBird (iOS and Android)
eBird is among the world’s largest biodiversity-related science projects, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed annually by eBirders around the world. A collaborative enterprise with hundreds of partner organizations, thousands of regional experts, and hundreds of thousands of users, eBird is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
eBird data document bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends through checklist data collected within a simple, scientific framework. Birders enter when, where, and how they went birding, and then fill out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing. eBird’s free mobile app allows offline data collection anywhere in the world, and the website provides many ways to explore and summarize your data and other observations from the global eBird community. With eBird, every birder can contribute to citizen science.
Birds Eye (iOS and Android)
Birds Eye uses your phone’s GPS to display all recent sightings near your current spot out to any distance you select from 1 mile to 50 miles. If you use eBird, you can import your eBird year or life lists for the whole world, region, or specific country. You can also use it to plan your next birding trip – find Hotspots near you or where you’re headed. The app is free but some advanced features will require purchasing add-ons.
Audubon (for members of the National Audubon Society; www.audubon.org)
Bird Conservation (for members of the American Bird Conservancy; www.abcbirds.org)
BWD (formerly Bird Watcher’s Digest) www.bwdmagazine.com/
Living Bird (for members of Cornell Lab of Ornithology; https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home)
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers online courses. They offer a free course on eBird essentials and other courses ranging in cost from $30 to $240. If you are a lab member, they frequently have sales and offer discounts on courses. You can find the course list here.
The lab also offers a number of free online videos on bird ID, biology, migration, gardening, art, and conservation.