The Best Bird Field Guides for Birders

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Picking a bird field guide can be a tough decision. Check out some of the best field guides that birders should choose from.

The volume of choices available when you start looking at bird field guides can be extremely overwhelming. How in the world are beginning birders supposed to know which of the dozens of field guides that are available will be best to help you learn about birds? Answer a few questions and you will be much more prepared to select the best bird field guide for you.

First, do you prefer field guides with photos or with drawings? Everyone seems to have a strong preference toward one or the other. Second, what region would you like the guide to cover? Is covering just the eastern or western part of North America good enough, or would you like a guide that covers every species you might find in North America? Or possibly a guide specific to your state or region, such as the Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of the Midwest, or even a hummingbird field guide. Here are a few of my favorite bird field guides.

kaufman field guide

1. The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

In my opinion, this is the best field guide to the birds in North America for beginning birders. The book is laid out in a way that really helps you find birds in the book as well as learn them as you go. It features photos of each species and very helpful text explaining many of the key identification points in addition to other useful information such as habitats and nesting behaviors. This is also the first field guide to the birds of North America that is translated into Spanish, Guia de Campo Kaufman a las Aves de Norteamericas.

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sibley field guideVia Amazon

2. The Sibley Guide to Birds

If you prefer drawings to photos, the Sibley Guide to Birds is definitely the book for you. The drawings are very accurate and highlight all of the best identification points of each species. The text is also well written and extremely helpful for those that take the time to read it. This book is offered in three versions: North America, Eastern North America, and Western North America.

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Peterson Field Guide To Birds Of North America, Second Edition 9781328771445Via hmhco.com

3. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds

The first good field guide in the United States was the Peterson Guide to Birds published in 1934. There have been many revisions and upgrades to this book over the years, and it’s still a very good field guide. The book also features drawings of bird species, but I personally prefer Sibley’s artwork. It’s also offered in three versions: North America, Eastern North America, and Western North America.

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National Geographic Kids Bird GuideVIA AMAZON

4. Bonus: Best Field Guide for Young Birders

The National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America offers beautiful, full-color photos of common birds you can find right in your backyard and their habitats, plus fun facts presented in an easy-to-consume way. All of this is sure to get kids excited about birding. It comes in a handy paperback edition so kids can take it on the go.

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No matter which field guide you choose, I highly recommend that you read the introduction chapters of each book before diving into the more fun images of the birds. There’s an incredible amount of info that can be learned by reading the intros to these books.  You’ll learn how to use the field guide, identification tips, and how to understand the range maps that are included for each species.

Next, check out our binoculars buying guide.

Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.