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National Geographic Society Field Guide
to the Birds of North America

Fifth Edition, 2006

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Review by Diane Porter

NGS Field Guide 5thGo birding with a bunch of serious, experienced birders, and you'll find some if not most of them carrying the National Geographic Society Field Guide to Birds of North America.

When the first edition came out in 1983, the NGS field immediately guide won the respect and loyalty of birders.

It's comprehensive, covering the rarities, including species found in such places as the western Aleutians of Alaska and the Dry Tortugas of Florida. And although it's fairly large for a field guide, it still manages to fit in a large pocket.

The new, Fifth Edition is fully revised and updated. Readers will quickly discover that the sequence of birds is not the same as previous editions. It follows recent changes in the taxonomic sequence, based on new scientific relationships between bird families.

Previous editions led off with loons, grebes, and albatrosses. But the Fifth Edition begins with geese and then the rest of the waterfowl. Welcome as this change is, the new NGS helps to dispell any anxiety about finding the right family quickly by incorporating thumb indexing, the way large dictionaries do. Seven tabs orient the reader to the hawk, sandpipers, gulls, flycatchers, warblers, sparrows, and finches. (Woodpeckers are still right ahead of the flycatchers, so they're easy to find also by using the flycatcher tab.)

It's a beautiful book. The illustrations, contributed by numerous artists, incorporate important features of each birds’ habitat and behavior. Concise text by dozens of expert birders draws attention to significant field marks and is detailed without overwhelming the reader.

The completely redone range maps, on the page facing the pictures and next to the text about each species, show where the birds can be found in summer and winter.

The paper cover is an improvement over earlier editions. It's crisp and yet flexible. Inside the front and back covers, the Quick-Find” species index helps with urgent searches. Although the book is a bit larger and heavier than other field guides, it is worth the extra effort to have it along. Even if you prefer to carry a smaller book in the field, you'll be glad to have the National Geographic Guide to consult when you get back to your car. It's the gold standard for field guides.

Paperback, 500 pages, 24 oz., 8 x 5 in.

Diane Porter--Diane Porter

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