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Sibley's Birding Basics

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  705 ratings  ·  67 reviews
David Sibley, America's premier birder and best-known bird artist, takes a new direction - in Sibley's Birding Basics he is concerned not so much with species as with the general characteristics that influence the appearance of all birds and thus give us the clues to their identity.

To create this guide, avid Sibley thought through all the skills that enable him to identify
Paperback, 168 pages
Published October 1st 2002 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Feb 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
2014: More info than I need for my level of birding skill, but now I'll be alert for clues that I otherwise might have missed. I should re-read this in a couple of years.

2020: When I read this a third time (at some distant date in the future), I'll start with Chapter 3; it begins:
Bird identification is like a matching game with a time limit. On one side you have images in a book or in your head, and on the other side you have a bunch of flitting, skulking real birds.

Interesting snippets

p 14: The
Tim Hoiland
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Sibley's Birding Basics is a book for people like me – those who aren't birders but who like the idea of becoming birders. I'm not yet able to identify a Dark-eyed Junco in the wild, nor am I likely to pinpoint where in the molt cycle a particular Western Sandpiper is. To do that I'll need a lot more experience and probably a few other books. But what this book has given me, I think, are the tools I need to begin the process of becoming a birder. ...more
Aric Hluch
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book that deserves multiple close readings rather than a single perusal, Sibley's guide to birding for beginners is an indispensable text for anyone interested in birding, or birdwatching. I learned more than enough required to discern the birds in my backyard. I also discovered the complexities of avian anatomy, the process of molt, migratory patterns, feather varieties, and how all of these bits of information are necessary to glean an understanding of birds, as well as identify them in the ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature-wildlife
A wonderful read to begin the year. As an inexperienced birder, this text was overwhelming in the most delightful sense. Although a small book and a mere 150 pages, I learned far more than I imagined I possible could. As other reviews have mentioned, this book deserves several readings at the deliberately slow pace. I found myself reading and rereading sections to cement the information in my mind. The most exciting part of reading this book was that immediately afterward, I was able to use the ...more
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
My nine-year-old daughter and I are the primary birders in the family. I had some credit at the local bookshop and picked this up for her, but I read it first. We use a Sibley field guide and I frankly wondered if this would offer me anything new. It did. I learned things I didn’t know about molting, for example, that are bound to come in handy. I’ll also be much better at differentiating feathers: coverts from scapulars, lores from supercilium, malar from auriculars, etc. You don’t get a taste ...more
Connie D
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Sibley's Birding Basics is a great reference guide for birders going beyond the basics. It would have been overwhelming/incomprehensible to me reading about birds for the first time, but it's perfect for me now...answering the questions and really clarifying things I have heard of but haven't understood, with great illustrations that explain the details.

David Sibley is a remarkable artist, a very clear writer, and the combination is perfect. His knowledge of the nature of birds is profound.

Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: birds, read-in-2018
An excellent little book, full of tips that will improve my birding. The title "Birding Basics" may be slightly misleading, though. This is not a book for true beginners. Some of the discussions in here will go over true beginners' heads and may even deter them from birding, thinking it is too hard or overwhelming. Rather, I think this book is better suited for those birders transitioning from beginner to intermediate birding. ...more
Oct 05, 2009 rated it liked it
What an interesting and informative book. I learned things about birds that I never suspected before. I may have to re-read this one should I decide to go birdwatching this fall. Seems very relaxing.

Dec 29, 2008 added it
Pretty good basic information. Very good advice on how to get started keeping track of your list.
Annette Kenyon
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Not sure who else wants to read this one--- besides amateur and wannabe birders! But I liked it for the "basics" . Need an actual Bird Atlas though. ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very helpful and short book for the beginning birder. It made me feel more at ease at starting out in this new hobby. Great book--definitely recommend for those new to the birding community.
Patrick Sullivan
Mar 17, 2020 rated it liked it
It's hard to really know how to rate a book like this. It is exactly what it purports to be: a brief but thorough and extremely detailed explanation of the process of bird identification. There's very little in the way of 'where to' or 'how to' engage in the activity of birding, and this is definitely NOT a field guide; if you want a reference book that will tell you about a specific bird species, this isn't it. The illustrations (all done by the author) are gorgeous and no doubt there are many ...more
Aug 29, 2019 added it
Shelves: birds, 2018
Sibley’s Birding Basics is not a bird identification field guide; instead, it’s a how-to manual about bird watching and identification. Or, as Sibley says in his “Introduction”: “It is the challenge and the process of identification that is the primary focus of this book.” This isn’t a book for the casual birder, instead it’s a book for the kind of birder who keeps a list of birds they’ve seen at their feeder (or in their life). It’s a book intended for someone interested in the next level of bi ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Some of what Sibley shares in this book is obvious to a regular birder, but other things are not. For instance, he suggests that it's important to know not only what particular features can be used to identify a particular bird among other similar birds, but also know how easily it is to observe that feature in a given moment. For instance, "I know that the Green-winged Teal has that bright green speculum feathers, but they're too far away to see. So I can't tell."

Also, the focused and purposefu
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I took up birding when my daughter was born, rather, I took up watching birds. Birding is a much more involved, specific activity that involves, as this book details, time, dedication, and perseverance. Not to mention a significant amount of study. That’s where this book comes in. Sibley is, in my estimation, the gold standard for birding and if you wanted to know more than you ever wanted to know about how to identify birds, this is the book for you.
May 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I used to drool over the hardcover version of this beautiful book back when Barnes and Nobel was our date night destination. Because I bought plenty of books there, I wasn't a total window shopper--but I digress. When I had the chance to buy a couple of new Audubon field guides for our current local, I snuck this into my Amazon cart, too. Although I'm glad to own it, I wish I had purchased the hardcover version. The illustrations are comparatively small in the paperback version. Sigh... ...more
Jessica Kelley
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
While I certainly didn't *absorb* every word of this book, it was a great introduction to birding and one I imagine I might refer back to in the future.
It got me thinking that what I think I really want is a book that focuses on the most common birds I might see here in the Methow Valley, with text that isn't too dry, and fun little stories about each bird, as well as some pointers on key identifying characteristics, all in "laymen's language" (not a ton of jargon/technical language).
Tom Scott
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This guide won't teach you to recognized any particular bird. Instead it teaches you what to look for to help you identify a bird. I read it after a few months of birding, which seems to me to be the perfect time to read it. There's a lot to learn and I imagine I'll consult this guide often to clarify my knowledge. If you're not interested in birding this book will be of no use to you. ...more
Apr 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An excellent guide for both novice and experienced birders. The many examples and David Sibley's own illustrations are expressly weaved into the narrative to explain the fine points involved in bird identification. Includes sharp but brief explanations of vocalisation, feathers, moulting - I would recommend this book to every dedicated birder. ...more
Gerry Matthews
Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Interesting and informative read, although I found it a little dry at times. I read the Kindle version, which in retrospect was a mistake as the illustrations were in B&W and the related text was so small they were impossible to read. My rating reflects the fault in the Kindle version.
Garrett Haynes
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, birds
A must read for any birder to help learn about how to identify and describe birds, their size, shape, structure, feather patterns, etc. and also learn how to avoid pitfalls in ID’ing a bird. This book will help novices and experts alike.
Emmanuel B.
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mr. Sibley has done a great job here. The book is a very useful introductory guide, explaining (in a rather basic but still engaging way) the main components to look out for while bird-watching. I enjoyed it a lot.
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
So much of the book's points are applicable beyond birding! The chapter "The Challenges of Bird Identification" will be an excellent example of how knowledge affects perception for my psychology classes. ...more
Katy Sammons
Jun 15, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book wasn’t basic enough for me. Chapters 9-15 on feathers often made my eyes glass over, and I admit that I skimmed a good bit. However, chapters 1-8 were excellent and quite helpful. Finally, the Kindle edition needs editing.
Benjamin Plume
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, nonfiction
Not quite as perfect as The Sibley Guide to Birds, but still an excellent reference with a lot of knowledge crammed into a small volume.
Steve Comstock
Sep 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Remarkable little introduction to birding.
Lorraine Sulick-Morecraft
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent information & details to assist with bird identification
Mark Nenadov
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, birds, birding
A very helpful guide, with attractive layout and effective simplicity in approach. Highly recommended.
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library, 2018
A must read for birding! It taught me so much on the basics of birding (dah). Very informative. I know I will come back to it again and again as I become a better birder.
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I imagine once I have some time in the field and experience actually looking at some dang birds, more of what Sibley has to say here will be helpful. As is most went over my head.
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“It can be difficult to accept the fact that a lot of birds have to be identified as “possible” or “probable.” 1 likes
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