Item description for Smithsonian Handbooks Birds of North America: Western Region by Fred J. Alsop...
Published in association with America's preeminent authority, the Smithsonian Institution, this comprehensive handbook to the birds of North America: Western Region includes 696 species -- all birds known to breed east of the 100th meridian on the United States and Canada, as well as regular visitors and vagrants to this region. The Smithsonian Handbook is the first identification guide that includes details of the bird's life history in a concise and user-friendly format. Each full-page profile combines a precise description, annotated photographs, and artworks to highlight the key field marks of the species in each plumage. Similar species are shown and distinguishing characteristics are noted. Further information on the bird's habits describes the typical song and other vocalizations, behavior, breeding, nesting, population, and conservation concerns. Typical flight patterns and nest locations and shapes are described with clear icons, and amplified in the text. Each bird's range during summer, winter, and on migration is clearly shown on a map.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Smithsonian Handbooks Birds of North America: Western Region?
Gorgeous !!!1 Nov 8, 2002
While looking for a gift for an elderly relative who likes to watch birds but is not an avid birder, I happened upon this gorgeous book and was so impressed with it.
It is beautifully organized and illustrated. Birds are described by song, breeding habits, nesting, behavior, migration, population, flight pattern, conservation, as well as by the more obvious characteristics used for identification such as size, head, plummage, tail, markings, trill, and behavior.
Each page is laid out so nicely and with great clarity, and has space for notes on where and when the bird was sighted.
The silhouettes of the birds in flight was an interesting addition to the identification process.
The author(s) also included the variations within each species (variations due to sex, juvenile status, seasonal characteristics, and genetic differences).
One section contained the anatomy of a bird and another the orthinological terms, illustrated. Both were most interesting and added to making birds easier to identify.
Not really a field guide, not really a natural history guide Mar 1, 2002
Once upon a time, people who wished to identify and learn about birds found few books from which to choose. Today, however, there are many, and the competition between them for birders' purchasing dollars is keen. I tend to buy just about any book that bills itself as a "guide to the birds of North America," however, so I recently picked up Fred J. Alsop III's new Smithsonian Handbook. There is much to appreciate and enjoy here, and I can recommend the book as a welcome supplement to anyone's basic bird guide collection (especially people living the western states). However, by itself it is adequate neither as a guide to bird identification nor as a supplemental source of information about bird habits and natural history.
This book is long (752 pages) and definitely hefty. No one but a true masochist would consider carrying it into the field. Consequently, in terms of helping with bird identification, this guide at best can serve as a supplement to other current field guides. In this capacity, the book will indeed be useful with respect to many birds. Each full-page treatment of a species includes lots of useful information, including key field marks, range, vocalizations, distinctive behavioral habits, nesting habits, and even flight patterns.
The key to whether or not this works for particular types of birds lies in Alsop's approach to bird illustration. Here, he relies mainly upon high-quality photographs. For most birds, particularly songbirds, this works adequately. However, as is just about always the case with bird guides illustrated with photos, the results are uneven. Some of the photos are spectacular, but a few are so-so. What's more important, however, is that Alsop's reliance upon a single large photo for each bird precludes adequate illustration of species for which inclusion of more than one picture is essential. This mainly includes species for which flight patterns are important, including gulls, terns, pelagics, hawks, shorebirds, waterfowl, swifts and swallows, and nightjars. This adds up to a lot of species.
Traditional field guides also provide additional illustrations to show immature or fall plumages. Alsop does try to include additional illustrations for some of these plumages, but these extra drawings mostly are so tiny as to be virtually useless. For some species, at least, he would have done better to limit some of the verbal information to accommodate more space for these additional illustrations.
One of the strengths of the book is Alsop's obvious commitment to providing the reader with information pertaining to each bird's behavior, nesting habits, and population/conservation. Because the author is combining this effort with identification material, however, the book doesn't measure up to certain others in terms of being a complete "natural history guide."
To his credit, Alsop includes some extra materials that are welcome and well-done. There is a section on extinct species (including the Ivory-billed woodpecker, which apparently may not be extinct after all), and also some "how to's" on birding as a pastime.
Overall, however, I can recommend this book mainly to people who really enjoy owning lots of bird books. A good strategy for birders generally is to purchase one (or more) good field guides for identification purposes, and then to supplement these with another good book that provides natural historical information. This volume certainly has its uses and contains lots of excellent information, but in trying to be both identification guide and natural history guide, it doesn't truly succeed in either function.
A true all inclusive guide... Sep 9, 2001
This is a wonderful book; each page has a single bird on it with all related information to the bird i.e. migrations (map showing in color what time of year the bird is found where), feeders, identifacation with clear pictures, song of the bird, behavior, breeding, nesting, population, conservation, size, wingspan, family, species, nest identification tips and chart, and habitat locations. In my opinion this book would be classified as a "must have" for a lover of birds and especially for a novice just getting into birds it is a excellent identification tool.
Apparently still a secret Jul 11, 2001
As a 40+ year novice birdwatcher, and incurable lover of books, I have acquired numerous field guides over the years. Raised on Peterson, in recent years I have enjoyed the Audubon guides by Farrand. Looking for something newer, I was assured that "The Sibley Guide to Birds" was now the king of the hill. Next to Sibley on my dealer's bookshelf was this Alsop. I already knew the publisher-Dorling Kindersley. They have perfected the art of visual teaching. This same teaching technique works very well for a nature field guide. There is a single page devoted to each species. The page is well laid out but packed with the information you want. The illustrations are superb-better than the Sibley. This book is a masterpiece, and I think will become a well-loved legend. It far surpasses Sibley, Peterson, and other field guides at this general, comprehensive level. Despite its breadth, it would be perfect for a beginning birdwatcher of any age. It must be new-I can't find it reviewed anywhere!