Before I went to Yellowstone as a newlywed 8 years ago, I only knew 3 birds. They included: ducks, seagulls, and birds. Everything I saw could be classified into one of those 3 categories. While in Yellowstone, we got really excited about a particular woodpeckery-looking thing with orange underneath its wings. Being a chronic question asker (I sometimes ask questions just to see if people really know what they are talking about), I asked the ranger on duty what might fit this description. He rather rudely replied that he had no idea, but it was mostly likely a robin. This led me to buy our first bird book for $20 (the national park price). Since then, we have picked up several other books.
Our favorite books are the Birds of [state] series by Stan Tekiela. We have purchased Birds of Utah (and been through 2 copies) as well as Birds of Idaho. These books are super-easy for the beginning birder because they are color-coded. Most books categorize birds by types: shorebirds, raptors, finches, etc., but this book has birds categorized by color. So, if you see a bird with orange under its wings, you flip to the orange section. Then, the birds are listed in order of increasing size. So, the last, largest bird in the white section is the Pelican. This makes bird identification easy. I even use this book in my classroom for teaching science (to 4th graders). The other benefit to this book is that it contains only birds that you might find in Utah. More technical, wider-ranging books frustrated us as beginners because we’d think we’d found our bird, only to realize that it can only be seen in eastern Canada! We’ve also found that Stan’s books give the most thorough information about birds, and we love the “Compare to” section. This section refers you to similar birds, so if you find a bird in the book that looks sort of like the one you see, the book directs you to all the birds that are similar. It is truly a beginning birders dream.
If you feel a little more advanced, our second book recommendation is the National Audubon Field Guide for your area (we own the Rocky Mountain and Southwest versions). These books are more thorough and typical of birding books. They classify by family, but they are fairly simple to use. The bonus is that these books can help with mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, bugs, and even some plants.
Though we’ve bought other larger, more complex books, we use them mainly for child entertainment, and not for bird identification.
Here are some birds we have identified and photographed.
Wild turkey up Provo Canyon
Gray jay by our picnic table in Yellowstone
Common nighthawk on the roof of our house. He sat there for about 4 hours so we could use our bird books to identify him.
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Great suggestions. I can’t wait for my littlest boys to get bigger so we can head out and start looking.
Seriously, you guys make me want to go out and look for birds now! 🙂