Not so long ago, my husband took up birding. He doesn’t call it that, but that’s what it is. He sits outside in the front yard in the evenings looking at, listening to, thinking about, studying, and commenting on the many varieties of feathered critters that occupy our small habitat, a quiet street in a small town on the edge of the Blue Ridge. Across the street is a huge mulberry tree where every year thousands of birds flock to eat and nest; robins, catbirds,
woodpeckers, orioles, and a slew of mourning doves grace our yardscape with color and grace, sound and speed. My husband’s favorite is the mockingbird, whose nesting and mating patterns seem to endlessly fascinate him.
Kenn Kaufman’s Field Guide to Advanced Birding is designed with people like my husband in mind, as well as those far more advanced in birding than he. The subtitle is significant. Even when one observes the same bird species in the same habitat year in and year out (as my husband does), there is a lot to learn. How, for example, do you tell males from females? Most people know that the male robin is bright and red-breasted while the female is duller, but who knew that male mourning doves are slightly more colorful than females? Warning: “this can be hard to judge unless they are seen together.” In fact, differences in the bird genders and ages can distinguished in many small ways -- in wingtip shape, in curve of beak, in a few extra feathers here and there. One sex difference
- eye color - would be difficult to see without binoculars. A popular known distinction is that males are generally the singers, using their vocal patterns to guard the nest. Among birds, it could be said that males are the “queens” – flashy and artistic - and females are the drab and undersung drones.
Kaufman is one of the world’s best-known bird experts and a field editor for
Audubon as well as a noted writer about our flighty friends. He directs our attention to such fine points as flight calls, best heard at night when these calls come “drifting down from high overhead.”
Birds can be quite chatty when flying. He advises that when using an illustrated guide to locate a certain species, it is wise to read the accompanying text as well to get the full benefit of the guide.
Whether your passion is owls, hummingbirds, flycatchers or woodpeckers - or in my husband’s case, mockingbirds
- Kaufman’s book will lead you deep into the identification of breeds, genders, molts, bills, caps and tails. Don’t, the author advises, look away as soon as a perched bird takes flight – that’s the moment when you can learn how it flies, another important identifier. Kaufman is trying to help birders to learn to develop quick impressions of birds (in other words, learning by experience) as well as to concentrate on and memorize minute details contained in books such as this one, details that are too fleeting to gather in a fast impression. Both skills, he believes, are necessary to a good birder.
Kaufman’s evident fascination with and love for birds adds a special dash of delight and sets this book apart. It’s useful, colorful, fact-filled and sensitive to its subject matter.
The Field Guide to Advanced Birding will be my birthday present to my amateur birding husband.