Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America – Review
PoachingFacts rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (Fourth Edition), attributed to Roger Tory Peterson, was most recently published in 2010. Peterson Field Guides compete directly with The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America and Princeton Field Guides on similar areas of focus, although there may not be a direct equivalent for North American birds from Princeton Field Guides. It also competes to a degree with the National Audubon Society’s field guides, which are actually in a narrower format and more portable in some cases.
This Fourth Edition claims substantial overhauls compared to previous editions and Paul Lehman and Michal O’Brien have gone to great lengths to improve the accuracy and provide updated range maps for numerous species while Michael DiGiorgio improved the digitized plates. The Field Guide offers a number of useful features, some duplicated for ease of access at the beginning of the book and at the beginning of the appropriate section, achieving an ease of use that will help novices quickly identify birds but may not provide enough detail or have a comprehensive enough format to satisfy more experienced birders.
There are 367 color-coded pages describing the size, voice, habitats, scarcity, classification, nomenclature, and “similar species” of almost 600 species comprising 32 families of birds with ranges within Western North America. This does not compare favorably to the 703 species in the Sibley field guide for the same region. The 176 color plates contained within the Peterson Field Guide primarily offer illustrations for adult plumages of males and females, with some species getting the requisite illustrations for adolescent plumage or seasonal changes which are essential to identification. Over all, the color reproduction and clarity from the Fourth Edition series are on par or better than what is found in Princeton Field Guides, although we can’t speak to the accuracy of the color reproduction with respect to actual bird plumage, since individual species’ plumage can vary significantly from one region to the next. National Audubon Society field guides on birds have color photos which some people may appreciate more, however the plates found in the Peterson Field Guides are so large and life-like that there are unlikely to be many complaints beyond plumage accuracy. Videos on the Peterson Field Guides’ YouTube channel are a free supplement to this guide.
About one hundred pages (pgs. 370-469) are dedicated to enlarged “range maps” depicting the same ranges accompanying nearly all of the bird species described, but with the benefit of being a larger size. These range maps are fit 6 to a page and have both a map number and the page number of the corresponding species, making it incredibly easy to turn to the larger range map when wanting a more detailed view. This feature also makes it very easy to plan trips around what birds will be in their seasonal or year-round ranges simply by looking at all the range maps side-by-side and deciding on what areas will help you check off your “life list.”
The last ten pages before the index feature a “life list” with a check-mark spot beside each species so readers can make a note of whether or not they’ve observed this species (with enough space to write in a state abbreviation to denote where they’ve seen it). Life lists are a key way for novice and veteran birders alike to keep track of what species they’ve had the pleasure of observing and such a functional – and essential – element for birding enthusiasts is a great inclusion in this Field Guide.
Like many field guides, the index lists all the bird species described within. The Peterson Field Guide offers a functional twist on the traditional alphabetized index by providing an alphabetically sorted list of both scientific and common names together, making it very easy to find the page number, or range map, of a specific species regardless of which name springs to mind first. Over 75 silhouettes of bird species are also included to round out the last pages of the field guide and make rapid- or distant-identification easier.
The Field Guide is laid out in a way familiar to anyone who has used field guides from other publishers and provides a good entry-level bird identification book with some features that may provide better subjective functionality in some areas while falling short in others. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America and The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America may offer a superior overall format and more comprehensive collection of individual species and illustrations depicting identifying features and seasonal or regional variations and should be the first consideration for those seeking to invest in a standard-sized field guide. For those looking for something more compact and portable with a similar coverage of information then National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Western Region and National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region are great choices.