The Best Bird Field Guides for Birders

Updated: Mar. 21, 2024

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

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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 and bird books 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 bird book that covers every species you might find in the whole country? Or possibly you’ll prefer 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.

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

1. The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

kaufman field guideVia Merchant

This is the best field guide to the birds in North America for beginning birders in my opinion. 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. The pictorial table of contents makes pinpointing birds on your life list a cinch. It features photos of each species. The helpful text explains many of the key identification points in addition to other useful information such as habitat and nesting behavior. 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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2. The Sibley Guide to Birds

sibley field guideVia Amazon

The Sibley Guide to Birds is definitely the best choice if you prefer drawings to photos. 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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3. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds

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

The Peterson Guide to Birds was the first good field guide in the United States when 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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4. Best Field Guide for Young Birders

National Geographic Kids Bird GuideVIA AMAZON

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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5. Birds of North America Book

birds of north america bookVia

If you want to take a very deep dive into the birding world, you’ll enjoy poring over Birds of North America by the National Audubon Society. This bird book is too heavy to carry along on a bird-watching trip, so it’s not a true portable field guide. But it has a vast amount of information about more than 800 species. Plus it has over 3,500 large color photos, range maps and tons of useful and interesting information about bird biology and behavior.

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6. Peterson Field Guide to North American Bird Nests

09 Swl Bbxnov21 PetersonnestsVia

Get up close with fascinating nests in the Peterson Field Guide to North American Bird Nests. Learn about different species’ preferred habitats and breeding behaviors. This book will come in handy if you spot a nest with bird eggs in your yard.

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