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Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior

Updated on October 10, 2014

Great book on bird life and behavior

One might be familiar with the Sibley bird guide books. David Sibley is an excellent artist who is very knowledgeable about bird behavior and different types of molts and plumages. His artwork helps illustrate this large, informative book, published by Knopf, Inc. for the National Audubon Society. Unlike other bird guides, this book focuses less on identifying birds than on actual bird behavior and conservation. It also has a section on basic bird anatomy. Each section is divided into family groups (storks, egrets, grebes, ducks, gulls, etc).

The photo for this module is the front cover of the 2001 edition by Chanticleer Press.

All of the photos on this lens were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

Pelicans | Source

Specifics of the book

The edition I am reviewing is the 2001 edition, though past and future editions have changed very little since they were first published. This edition has 587 pages except for the species index. It is filled with wonderful illustrations by David Sibley, usually at least one per page or one for every other page. Many of these illustrations may seem familiar with readers as they have been licensed to other books and websites. It is edited by Chris Elphick, John. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley.

The book is divided into two major parts:

The World of Birds

Flight, Form, and Function

Origins, Evolution and Classification


Habitats and Distributions

Population and Conservation

Bird Families of North America

Divided into every type of family of birds in the region. For example:



Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns

New World Vultures

Rails, Gallinules, and Coots


Coursers and Pratincoles


Pigeons and Doves


Swallows and Martins


Babblers (Wrentit)


Cardinals and Allies

And many more.

I found all chapters to be fascinating and well illustrated and the information well organized. Even though this is essentially a reference book, it is also a good book to read straight through.

The bird on the cover of the first edition. . .


The bird on the cover of the book is a common yellowthroat. Yellowthroats live all around the country, especially around where I live. Here is a photo I took of a common yellowthroat.

The new, second edition features a yellow-rumped warbler.

Where to purchase the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior - Second edition now out!

Here is a link to the guide if you would like to buy it. I find it not only a useful reference, but an interesting read as well. This is a link to the 2nd edition which is recently updated.

The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition
The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition

The second edition recently came out and it has new birds and more information that the first version.

Great Egret
Great Egret | Source

Other Sibley Guides

There are several other Sibley Guides to birds out there, all are informative. Most of the guides involve identification of birds in a particular area. Sibley tries to represent all molting phases and anomalies to help make identifying birds easier. Sibley guides are known for their accurate illustrations and information. Also, there's a neat guide to the parts of a bird, seabird, and shorebird near the front of them. I was recommended this guide from an experienced birder over all others.

The book in this review, however, deals with all the intricacies of bird behavior instead. Below is a link to some of the most popular Sibley guides.

Photo in the module was taken by me.

More Sibley Guides

Sibley guides are a valuable resource. But, even if you don't use them as your go-to guide, they're just great to own for the artwork alone. Such beautiful detail in all the pictures.

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America

Guide to eastern birds and vagrants. Like the western field guide, this one will have some birds that are out of range, but occasional visitors.

Random House RH0679451218 'Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western N.A.' Book
Random House RH0679451218 'Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western N.A.' Book

I have this copy, it covers western birds plus a few eastern vagrants. It has great representations of the seasonal variations of the different birds in the area.


More links to Sibley's work

Here are more links to Sibley's artwork.

Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards: 100 Common Birds of Eastern and Western North America (Sibley Birds)
Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards: 100 Common Birds of Eastern and Western North America (Sibley Birds)

Ooo, a flashcard set! How cool! I know flash-cards are helpful when it comes to learning birds and bird facts. This one has over 100 of the most common birds in North America.

Sibley's Birding Basics
Sibley's Birding Basics

Learn the basics of bird identification and behavior. Great for beginners and those who want to know more than just the identity of birds.


Related birding items

Here are a few birding related items that might be a nice addition to your Sibley's guide. I would also suggest optics such as scopes and binoculars, also available through Amazon.

Bird Song Ear Training Guide: Who Cooks for Poor Sam Peabody? Learn to Recognize the Songs of Birds from the Midwest and Northeast States
Bird Song Ear Training Guide: Who Cooks for Poor Sam Peabody? Learn to Recognize the Songs of Birds from the Midwest and Northeast States

This guide has 189 distinct bird calls. I love to recognize birds by sound as well as sight. I find that I often have to rely on vocalizations, only, because some birds are difficult to find to get a visual ID.

The Great North American Bird Watching Trivia Board Game
The Great North American Bird Watching Trivia Board Game

After you look through your guide, try this game testing your skills and knowledge about different bird species.


Have you read or seen any of David Sibley's work or guides?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Followed your link from Kumbuya. I have more than a few bird guides for identification, but nothing really that focuses on behavior. This may just need to be my next bird book.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 

      6 years ago

      I'd love too - I grew up with beautiful books of wildlife identification like this, and this one sounds like a "Must Have"!


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