The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America By Donald and Lillian Stokes

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald and Lillian StokesThe authors, well known among the birding community, are back with another “must have” book. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America is one of the best reference guides to come along in years. The Stokes have taken the best features of all of the guides available and incorporated them into this new volume. Everything about this book is user friendly. The birds are grouped in the standard groups found in most books, but the groupings are broken down into smaller sets to help readers narrow the field a bit while searching for “their” bird. The Table of Contents is color coded and the bottoms of the corresponding pages are colored as well. For example, if a reader thinks the bird darting about the field is some sort of swallow, then by looking at the Table of Contents he would find that Larks, Martins and Swallows are found starting on page 509 which is color coded in violet. This makes it easy to get to the correct pages before the bird is gone! However, if the birder is fairly sure the bird is a swallow, there is a quick index on the front flap for easy referencing. A quick glance there and the reader would find that swallows are found on pages 513-520.

On each page there are multiple color photographs of the same bird in different seasons, maturity levels or in motion giving birders a better chance of identifying their mystery bird. In fact, there are 3,400 photographs showing birds from several different angles. Below the photographs are the standard bird facts-habitat, song, body shape and flight patterns. Unlike some guides that have the range maps in the back, this volume has a small range map on the same page with the bird listing as well as a list of subspecies and hybrids that have developed. But, let’s get back to our mystery bird. After reading the helpful identification tips for swallows at the beginning of this section, the reader might well glance over a few pages before finding on page 519, that the bird is a Barn Swallow, but a juvenile, explaining why the back lacks the iridescent bluish black of the adult and why the tail is not as obviously forked as one would expect from a swallow.

But what if the mystery bird is one that you never manage to see but only hear each evening? Besides the factual information and beautiful photographs in the book, the Stokes have included a CD in the back with 600 bird sounds from 150 different common birds. There is an index listing the birds heard on the disc by track and the page number where the bird is featured in the book. For people who want even more information, the CD also includes a downloadable booklet.

Even though it is a paperback, with well over 700 glossy full color pages, the book is a bit heavy to carry out into the field. However, I’m sure most birders would take the book with them and leave in their vehicle or base camp since it is one of the best organized and handy bird guides to come along in several years.

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