Monday, June 9, 2014

Field Guide to Birds of Colorado

Field Guide to Birds of Colorado
by Floyd, Ted and Brian E. Small
2014, 320pp, ISBN: 9781935622437

BASICS: flexcover; an attractive photo guide to 298 (90%) of the species routinely seen in Colorado; half of the birds are shown with 2-3 good photos; photos show the adult         breeding plumages of the male and female for the more common species and the male for some of the less common;  one paragraph of material for each of the more common        birds covers descriptions of the bird, habitat preference, some habits, and sounds with only 1-2 sentences for the less common; a short sentence of identification notes is used as a legend with each photo; good guide for the newer birder wanting to focus on just the birds of Colorado

REVIEW: This is the second of at least four bird books planned to focus on a single US state (New Jersey, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts).  It appears the primary focus of these books is to focus on not just the birds of a particular state but, those that are more likely to be seen.  This tactic will help the newer birder become acquainted with the more common birds while avoiding the potential confusion of the other 200 species not likely to be seen.

Like this book's predecessor (New Jersey), the highlight of what is inside is the selection of 491 color photographs that show 298 species.  This accounts for about 90% of the birds routinely seen in Colorado and 60% of all species ever documented in the state.  As typical for the quality photography of Brian Small, there are some excellent photos within this book that will be both enjoyable to examine and useful to identify the birds.

Each of the birds is shown with 1-3 photographs.  The selection of photos varies in size from a stunning half-page to a smaller shot that barely covers 10% of the page.  Nearly half (48%) of the birds are shown in only one photo; and, 20% of the species are shown in smaller photos of less than 2 inches.  It is typically the less common birds that are shown in the smaller photo or the species with a less varied plumage shown by only one photograph.

Accompanying each of the more common birds is a full paragraph that provides a brief description of the bird along with notes on the preferred habitat, comments on habits or behavior, and, a description of the vocalizations.  For 33 of the less common species, the full extent of text is limited to only a single short sentence that addresses the bird's seasonal status or abundance in Colorado.  Additional text is inserted into a small box -- kind of like a caption -- alongside most of the photographs.  This information gives tips on what should be examined about the bird to help with identification.

The book does not contain range maps.  Instead, a brief description is mentioned in the text for each bird.  These descriptions are often generalized such as "in the foothills from the Front Range westward" or "in the Front Range foothills and widely scattered across the eastern plains and western valleys".

A nice feature of this book is the inclusion of the proper subspecies found in the state.  As an example, the correct subspecies of the Curve-billed Thrasher (oberholseri) is shown as are the six different subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco.  I'm glad to also see the correct species and name of the newly split Sagebrush Sparrow.

One of the trickier aspects of creating a state-dedicated bird book is balancing the right number of species with a nice presentation of large photos versus a not-too-big book.  The balance with this book has tipped towards increasing the number of species which reduces the number and size of the photos.  The difference between the two sister books is readily visible when flipping through the pages.  To quantify this, the Colorado book has 34 more species but with 72 fewer photographs in 54 fewer pages of photos than the New Jersey book.  And, it has nearly three times as many species shown by only a single photo (143 in CO vs. 50 in NJ).  No doubt, the high number of species in Colorado in combination with very diverse habitats makes it difficult to pick just the right number (or percentage) of birds to include or exclude.

This book is definitely recommended for any Colorado birder that wants to focus on just that state's birds or, who wants to begin with a book that has a more manageable number of species.  This is definitely the best photo guide available for just the birds of Colorado.  I look forward to seeing the other two books scheduled to be published for Florida and Massachusetts. -- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, June 2014)