Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: The Bird Watching Answer Book

Laura Erickson has devoted much of her writing to helping new birders and nonbirders understand and protect birds better. Her previous books include 101 Ways to Help Birds, which has a variety of recommendations that anyone can follow to support bird conservation, a theme that continues on her blog. Her latest work, The Bird Watching Answer Book, follows in the same vein but answers a broader array of questions.

New birders and people with a general interest in birds often have very basic questions about birds. They do not necessarily need explanations of the latest research, just clear and accurate answers. The Bird Watching Answer Book does this quite well. Despite its small size (slightly smaller than most of my Peterson and Kaufman guides), it packs a great deal of information inside its covers.

The Bird Watching Answer Book is written in a question-and-answer format, with the questions grouped by topic. Many of the questions derive from real questions asked of Laura Erickson or from questions sent to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Topic range from basic questions such as  how to feed birds or what to do with a baby bird to more complex subjects such as breeding and migratory behavior. The book also stresses reducing hazards for birds and protecting endangered bird species.

Potential buyers should note that The Bird Watching Answer Book does not teach how to identify birds. It may work best if paired with a field guide plus a book that does teach identification skills, like Sibley's Birding Basics or the National Geographic Birding Essentials. I do not mean this as criticism, but readers should approach the book with proper expectations.

In addition to helping beginning birders, it should be a useful resource for people who work in nature preserves or birders who interact with the general public in other ways. Even those of us who blog about birds frequently receive basic queries about birds. It helps to have a book like this to use as a reference when answering them.