Louis's Reviews > Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman
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Dec 04, 07

bookshelves: nature
Read in March, 2006

About myself: I've been birding for all of three months, not really taking walks for the purpose of birding or making IDs until this past Christmas Bird Count. So I imagine I fall right in the target demographic for this work. My impression of the several times I've built a stack of several guides to look at something I've seen is that the Sibley Guide and its Eastern and Western children compete with the National Geographic Field Guide for the top/experienced birder and comparisons between one of those and the Kaufman's guide are rather silly, different purpose. Kaufman himself mentions that he leaves out things such as variants which experienced birders want because he was aiming at the less experienced birder. That leaves guides such as Peterson's, StokesGuideToBirds?, the Golden Guide and the American Bird Conservancy AllTheBirdsOfNorthAmerica? as comparisons.

I agree that Kaufman has improved greatly on the other photographic based guides. The other photo guides I've seen suffer from the fact that their photos are too good (paradoxically). Since the overwhelming majority of birds I see are under clouds or trying their best to be inconspicuous, the vibrancy of, say, Stokes actually makes it harder to ID the bird. Kaufman's use of the arrows to highlight field marks and putting similar birds on the same page a la Peterson guides helps a lot as well. The Golden Guide does not quite measure up since it is harder to tell what to look for in the absense of field marks in the descriptions. And the order of 'All the Birds' I find hard to work with.

The real comparison for the Kaufman Field Guide is the PetersonsFieldGuideToBirdsOfEasternAndCentralNorthAmerica and its western sibling. I have purchased both, and each of them spend time in my pocket. I tend to favor Peterson because the pictures are larger (5th edition), for some birds it includes a number of variants (which Kaufman deliberately omits) and the pictures are sharper (I can abstract the natural blending of colors myself)so the difference between sharp boundaries and more blended boundaries of color are actually meaningful (e.g. Carolina and Black-capped chickadees). And I actually find the closer to taxonomic order easier to navigate (since families that are close tend to be close to each other). The Kaufman quick tabs get me to the right part of the book, but within the tab I often end up flipping through all the pages. The taxonomy (as a non-biologist) order actually becomes someone ingrained quick enough, which I imagine makes sense, since it is based on physical reality.

Of course, between Peterson and Kaufman, I would echo the advice that you actually have to look at both to pick one (if pick one you must). The styles are different enough that I find both useful, and I always look at the other one when I get back home. Much of the question is if the use can get past the abstraction of the painting to real life viewing, or if they give up the shown details for the more realistic texture that the touched up photographs can give even when the improved depiction of texture probably does not help for identification in field conditions.
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