Sibley's Birding Basics
David Sibley
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Buy *Sibley's Birding Basics* online

Sibley's Birding Basics

David Sibley
192 pages
October 2002
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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David Allen Sibley, artist, naturalist, and birder, has already published several bird-related books that have become bestsellers. The son of Yale ornithologist Fred Sibley, he was born in New York and has been watching and drawing birds since he was seven years old. His illustrations have appeared in many publications, from newsletters to national magazines such as Bird Watcherís Digest, Birding, The Nature Conservancy, and Audubon.

Sibley's Birding Basics is a pocket-sized book, the first easily portable guide to all the skills you need to identify a bird in the few moments itís in your view. In this book, David Sibley is concerned with the general characteristics that influence the appearance of all birds and give us clues to their identity. It includes 125 full-color illustrations and is specially designed for use in the field.

The book is divided into 16 chapters. At the Introduction, the author explains what exactly birdwatching is and where it can be done. "This book is about interpreting what you see and hear in order to make better judgments," Sibley says. "This is not a guide to the identification of any specific birds. It is designed to promote a general understanding of the challenges of identification , and an understanding of how our impressions of the birds are shaped by the environment and the birdsí behavior."

In the first chapter, the author says "Whether you can identify six birds or six hundred, youíll be a better birder if you have a grounding in the real nuts and bolts of what birds look like, and your skills will be even sharper if you know exactly what to look for and how to record what you see." He writes about the equipment necessary, where and when to go birding. In the second chapter, "Finding Birds," Sibley gives the readers useful tips and advice: "Of course, it is not essential to go out into the woods and marshes and stalk birds. By providing food, water, and cover, you can bring many species of birds into your yard, where they can be studied at close range and watched at leisure."

"Keeping Records," "Field Notes" and "Sketching" are all valuable subchapters. "The Challenges of Bird Identification" deals with the development of birding skills and its benefits. "For the birder, one of the practical benefits of studying birds more closely is that the more precisely you define each species, the more accurate your identification will be," the author says. "Sorting Skills" and "Birdsí Differences" lead to the right identification.

In the chapter entitled "Misidentification," the author tries to sort out the problems of poor or brief bird observation. "Unfortunately, it is easy to bias your own observations through a sloppy or casual approach," Sibley says. "Identifying Rare Birds," "Taxonomy," and "Using Behavioral Clues" follow, offering more details: "Birds are often seen in flight, and you can learn to identify flying birds, but to do so you must know 'the Basics'. Plumage patterns and bill shape can be seen in surprising detail on flying birds, as can leg length," the author says.

The "Voice" comes next. "Listen to the overall pitch and to changes in pitch, noting whether the song varies widely from high to low pitch or is more even..." Sibley goes on, explaining in simple graphs the songs of several species.

The authorís sketches in "Understanding Feathers" enlighten the description of several species. In the "Feather Groups of a Passerine" pages, he describes the bird in detail, supporting description with his fine drawings and labeling of feathers. His sketches fill up the next pages and are explained in meticulous detail.

"Feather Arrangement and Color Patterns," "Structure of Tail and Wings" and "Bare Parts" follow. In chapter thirteen, "Molt," the author explains everything about the process by which birds replace their feathers. More colorful sketches appear in this section; in the next chapter, "Feather Wear," readers get informed about the wear of feathers and the changes in plumage throughout the year. "Age Variation" follows, with more details on how to determine the age of a bird. "You can see how the progress of molt leaves clues that allow a birder to determine the age of a hawk. A complete set of juvenile feathers indicates a bird in its first year of life," Sibley says.

In the last chapter, "Ethics and Conservation," Sibley motivates readers to support habitat preservation work locally.. He also displays some addresses related to conservancy , as well as their URLs. The book ends with a list of Latin names for species mentioned in the text and a note about the author.

Sibley's Birding Basics is a well-organized pocket guidebook, clearly laid out, scientifically precise and beautifully illustrated. It caters to everyone, not just those who take up birding as a hobby. It is highly educational and children can equally enjoy it and benefit from it, as well as adults. "I wrote and illustrated this book to help every inquisitive birder, from novice to expert," the author says. The sketches throughout the book are not only helpful but showcase the authorís exceptional talent in fine arts. It is worth having this book, not only for the interesting information on birds but for keeping it on your bookshelf as an art book.

More of Sibleyís artwork can be seen on his web site, He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and their two sons. David Allen Sibley is available for interviews. He is willing to lead you on a walk, show you his painting technique, or simply whistle. Please contact Kathryn Zuckerman ( or Allison McGeehon ( if interested.

Related Titles by David Allen Sibley:

  • The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2000
  • The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, 2001

© 2002 by Liana Metal for Curled Up With a Good Book

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