Collins Field Guide to Birds of North America
With the release of Norman Arlott’s new work, Collins has thrown its hat into the North American field guide ring.
Although there is certainly room for improvement with existing titles and a definitive guide to the region is still needed, Arlott’s book doesn’t fit the bill. It doesn’t take an innovative approach to the study, and the illustrations are not aesthetically pleasing enough – nor the accompanying text extensive or enlightening enough – to add value to the classic guide format. It is hard, therefore, to imagine the intended market for this book, or what niche it is trying to fill considering the availability of more useful volumes on this extensively covered area.
The book appears to pass over some of the tougher identification challenges facing birders in North America and also recent progress in bird identification. For example, the Empidonax flycatcher plate is almost of no value at all, with little attempt to either illustrate or describe known salient field marks or behaviour. Where relevant features are illustrated (for example, Hammond’s Flycatcher’s tiny bill) there is no mention of these attributes in the accompanying text, making the visual note seem almost more luck than judgment.
One promising feature is the large number of species included on each plate, which allows for quick reference while puzzling over a bird’s identification. A scan of all the warblers of North America requires flicking through a mere six plates in the book. The guide’s general approach, however, showing only breeding male and female warblers, rarely covers the extremes of variation within each species. Compare this with the incomprehensible decision to illustrate three different forms of Thick-billed Vireo, a species limited to casual appearances in south-east Florida.
There are a few other aspects of the book that I liked, including its comprehensive coverage of North American species, its overall small size (which makes it practical for the field) and the easy reference to both range maps and accompanying text on the page opposite the plates. Although not without merit, the book does have problems.
• Collins Field Guide to Birds of North America by Norman Arlott (Collins, London, 2011).
• 240 pages, 100 colour plates and numerous distribution maps.
• ISBN: 9780007293346. Hbk, £29.99.
Available from Birdwatch bookshop