The latest edition of this excellent field guide arrived yesterday and I thought I'd share my first impressions.
This is a major revision, unlike a few of the past revisions. The cover says "All 990 species, including 23
new species; 300 new art pieces, new quick-find visual index, subspecies and migration maps, found only in this
Most of the 23 new species are treated briefly, with only a single painting in the appendix of "Accidentals
and Extinct Species." which now comprises 17 pages vs. 13 pages in the 5th edition. At least one species (Eskimo
Curlew) was moved from the main part of the book to this section, although the Ivory-billed Woodpecker remains
in the main section.
The 300 new art pieces are scattered throughout with some plates entirely new, but with many rearranged with new
art inserted for some species but not others.
The new quick-find visual index is on the inside covers. It consists of small images of one species from each family
keyed to the page numbers where the family is treated in the text. This replaces the detailed bird topography and
map of North America which were included there in the 5th edition. The bird topography images are moved to the
introduction and replace the old "Parts of a Bird" from the 5th. The old map of North America seems to
The subspecies and migration maps consist of two parts. All of the maps have been redone to show distribution during
migration. The familiar red, blue and purple shading is still there for breeding, winter and permanent distribution,
but added are pale green for spring migration, pale yellow for fall migration and orange for migration during both
spring and fall. These migration distributions are on all the maps and are big improvement over past editions.
Dashed lines are used for irregular distribution in all colors and black lines separate named subspecies with dashed
lines for approximate subspecies boundaries.
Not all named subspecies are mapped. For example the Horned Lark now has its own plate with various subspecies
illustrated, but the accompanying map does not show their ranges. Likewise Common Yellowthroat does not have any
subspecies on its map. On the other hand all three races of Chestnut-backed Chickadee are mapped even though only
two are illustrated.
An additional set of maps is included in the back of the book showing detailed subspecies ranges for 37 selected
species. However neither the Horned Lark nor the Common Yellowthroat are included there. Within the 37 species
with special maps, attempts are made to map both breeding and wintering ranges of each subspecies. For some species
such as Fox Sparrows, the subspecies are organized into groups and summer and winter ranges are on separate maps.
Presumably putting it all on one map would be extremely confusing.
The claims that subspecies and migration maps are found only in this field guide is not really true. E.g. the
old Golden Guide had migration maps with cross hatching for spring and fall and even included isobars showing arrival
dates across North America for many migratory species.
When I first opened the book and started flipping through the plates, the most noticeable difference is that each
plate now has fine text next to each bird emphasizing key field marks. In a few cases, lines are included pointing
to these features, but in most the text is simply placed nearby without any arrows or lines.
The new art work is contributed by Jonathan Alderfer, Killian Mullarney, David Quinn, John Schmitt, and Thomas
Schultz. These are all talented bird artists with keen knowledge of field identification.
It's well beyond the scope of this first impression to discuss all the new art, but for example, the plate with
Semipalmated, Western and Least Sandpipers is unchanged except for the addition of a female Semipalmated Sandpiper
in breeding plumage showing its longer bill. The original plate was done by J. C. Pitcher, but the new female Semipalmated
Sandpiper is by Tom Schultz. The two artists have different styles and I think it shows here and on a number of
other plates in which different artists contributed different birds. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether some of
the differences are artistic or whether they are intended to be actual field marks. Also some of the images appear
to have been printed a bit too dark in my copy. That said, the new artwork is a clear improvement.
There are lots of similar improvements throughout this edition. The text for all species now follows a standard
format and it is much easier to find the information one wants.
Some of the species have been rearranged in homage to recent changes in the AOU checklist. Some of these I think
were probably unnecessary. E.g. I don't think placing the longspurs and Snow Bunting between pipits and warblers
will make them easy to find in the book. I probably would have left them with the sparrows with which they are
most likely to be confused.
I have used this book in the classroom since the very first edition in 1983 and it just gets better and better.
This new version is still compact enough to be carried in a large pocket. It is slightly thicker than the 5th edition
having 574 pages (72 more) than the 5th. I look forward to using this new edition as the standard text for my classes.