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The Warbler Guide: A Book Review

The Warbler Guide
Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle
Princeton University Press, 2013

Written by Jennifer Goyette, Biologist

If you are anything like me you gleefully anticipate the release of a new bird guide. But then, you glance at your overstuffed shelf (shelves?) of bird guides and ask yourself, “do I really need another?” How many bird guides does one person need? If this is the case, let me help release you from consumer guilt.

The Warbler Guide is a fantastically well thought out tool for parsing out a notoriously difficult group of birds. If you are new to bird identification, perhaps warblers are an impenetrable tangle of yellow, white, and grey flashes of feathery frustration. Or maybe you have been at it for ages and ID trouble with this one group is preventing you from feeling a sense of accomplishment. Whether you consider yourself expert or novice, this book brings together everything you might need to strengthen your ability to identify warblers. Furthermore, techniques outlined within the book can help strengthen observational skills, which are helpful for all types of animal identification challenges.

The layout of The Warbler Guide provides a systematic visual approach to identify warblers by color pattern, range, habitat, and behavior. Several pages are dedicated to each species, and rather than lengthy written descriptions the space is dedicated to multiple photos of each species at every conceivable angle, followed by comparison species, and an additional photo section on ageing and sexing.

Also provided, and of equal importance to visual cues, are visual aides to help distinguish warbler songs. At first glance, this information may seem daunting. However, with a little practice listening to songs while viewing spectrograms, a person can gain another tool to make identification easier. I have been conducting field work for more years than I like to admit, and can tell you that without my ears I would be unable to identify half or more of the birds I encounter while in the field. As a companion to the book, the authors have partnered with the Macaulay Library of Natural Sound to make an audio guide (see their website for details).

But the book is so big, you say. Yes, it is. I would not take it in the field with me. However – lucky for us – the authors have provided downloadable, quick guides on the book website. Personally, I have found these useful and been able to confirm multiple warblers to species, by keeping the quick guides on my iPhone.

I have made room for one more book on my shelf. The Warbler Guide came out a few months ago, so many of you might already have it. But some of you might still be in the land of indecision.  If so, I encourage you to take a peek and see if this book is for you.

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