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Bookstore Birding

Updated on January 24, 2015
Sherry Thornburg profile image

Writer, photographer and birding enthusiast, Sherry Thornburg writes about birding and birding related topics.

Used Book Store Finds

A Great Day Bird Book Hunting
A Great Day Bird Book Hunting | Source

One of my favorite pass-times is rummaging used and discount book stores. I’ve found some old, odd and out of print jewels in these places. The practice started when I was a poor college student hunting for entertainment. Ok, yes, I am a bookworm. Before Google, there were books. Before I waste so much time on the Internet there were comic books and graphic novels and . . .

Anyway, birding requires a certain level of knowledge that builds on itself over time. You can learn a lot from field guides on countless websites or you can head to the bookstore. As wonderful and the internet is, and I assure you I use it constantly, a book in the hand is a faster reference tool and doesn't disappear when the power goes out or cell service is gone.

Bird Book Collecting

I have amassed a small collection of Birding field guides, each with different points that make them special.

  • One organizes the birds by color.

This is helpful when you really have no clue what you are looking at. I give it to children when I teach birding. You should see their eyes light up when they find the right little gray bird.

  • One guide has comparative illustrations on one page for like birds

This is the Golden Field Guides Printing of The Birds of North America pictured above. The illustrations allow me to compare the fine points between such close cousins as the Mallard Duck, and the Mottled Duck. Male Mottled Ducks look the same as Mallard females, but the difference is in the wing stripe. Mallards have white stripes bordering their blue band and Mottled Ducks don't.

  • One has photography of adult male, female and juvenile and winter verses mating plumage.

Actually, I have several of these. I keep in-depth books that are encyclopedias of birding information and I have field guides that are small and have an overview of the more important points of identification. One type is better for leisurely reading and the other can be carried with me in the field. Both are great helps and I use them all regularly.

Backyard Birding Helps

This trip to the book store earned me new information designed to use at home. One is the 2008 printing of Best-Ever Backyard Birding Tips by Deborah L. Martin. This gem is about feeding birds, planting and landscaping to attract birds, building bird houses, feeders and water features, and understanding bird behaviors. In between all that information are “get a closer look” pages outlining specific birds and how to attract them. The tips come from experienced birders, often by name.


Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Store Bought Nectar.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Store Bought Nectar. | Source

Bits of Advice

I like the many bits of advice in this book and was happy to see a section of busting myths about Hummingbird nectar. I’ve met birders that are militant about never buying red nectar. Deborah Martin admits it isn’t a proven fact that it is bad for the birds, but there are some studies out there that say the birds will feed more on clear nectar than colored (so we go with what the customer wants). She also debunks the idea that you need nectar with added vitamins and minerals. She advocates spending more time concerned with how fresh the nectar is instead.

  • Don’t leave the feeder out until it is empty or clouding. By then its spoiled.
  • Depending on temperatures, don’t leave a hummingbird feeder out for more than a week.
  • In the hot summers of Texas, change sugar feed ever few days.

I also liked the advice about landscaping. It backs up my personal observations.

  • One point is that “you need to look at setting up your bird space from the top down.” Birds will come to the nearest tall tree first to check out the offerings. If they see the three essentials, water, food and cover, your welcome mat has been properly put out.

Get it for Yourself: Best-Ever Backyard Birding by Deborah L. Martin remains in print by Rodale Books and can be ordered through the internet as well as bookstores along with other books about backyard birding.


New Book Store Finds

State Birding Books and Guides
State Birding Books and Guides | Source

Birding Books by State

I also have several birding books just about Texas birding. It is good to have a book on your state’s birds. With over 900 bird species moving through the United States, narrowing down the flocks to just the ones in your end of the country is very helpful. A few of those books also act as travel guides to the best spots for finding different birds. Chasing down birding spots has become my newest excuse to travel.

Finding the Best Locations

Finding good spots for birding out and about had been a major problem until I happened on Birding Texas by Roland Wauer and Mark Elwonger. Originally published in 1998, this book may be a bit dated, but it is well worth the purchase. It includes:

  • 200 birding locations by regional area; so if you live on the upper coast or the Trans Pacos plains you will be able to find the closer birding spots and be able to check out the possibilities for day and weekend trips round the state.
  • Entries are headed with quick reference information that can include the nearest food and lodging, nearest camping, habitat information, key birds and best times to bird.

After finding Birding Texas, I have been to several places I never knew were so close and have been able to pin-point where certain birds will likely be at what time of the year. My most recent life list find was the Sandhill Crane. These birds winter Texas, but not in my heavily forested backyard. Searching the book I found several possible wintering areas. I had a lucky day in November finding a huge flock of beautiful cranes at the entrance of Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge; the first stop on my list of possibilities.

Get it for Yourself: Birding Texas by Roland Wauer and Mark Elwonger is published by Falcon Guides. It can be ordered through the internet as well as bookstores in parks and wildlife centers.

Old Knowledge vs. New Knowledge

In a few cases, I have found myself a bit behind the times using older books. The Black-shouldered Kite is now called a White-tailed Kite. It was successfully argued that this bird differed from the Old World species in size, shape, plumage, and behavior, sufficiently to warrant full species status. The American Ornithologists' Union made the change in 1992. The name Black-shouldered kite is now reserved for an Australian species. The Birds of Texas by John Tveten, pulished in 1992, was apparently written before this decision was finalized and came off the presses with the old name. I'm sure this was a point of frustration with the author, who wrote other naturalist guides I have on wildflowers and butterflies.

Despite such changes over time, books printed 10 years ago or more do not make the information in them any less valuable. Surfing the internet will get your plenty of information, but taking a walk down the aisles of your local bookstore or library will give you the best hands-on way to choose the birding helps that are right for your needs.

© 2015 Sherry Thornburg

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