The Sibley Guide to Birds
David Allen Sibley/Knopf
This is the newest and simply the best of the fieldguides listed here. It is also available in smaller, Western and Eastern editions that are more pocket friendly but the illustrations are smaller and compartively cramped.

Field Guide to North American Birds (4th Edition)
National Geographic Society
Prior to Sibley, this was the field guide of choice for serious birders. It is still preferred by many because of it's smaller format and more lively illustrations.

Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds (3rd Edition)
Roger Tory Peterson/Houghton Mifflin Co.
This is the old standard, but still a valuable reference with good illustrations even if they are a bit stiff.

All the Birds of North America
American Bird Conservancy's Field Guide Harper Perennial/Harper Collins
This is a strangely organized, but useful cross reference with good supplemental information on conservation.

Note: Avoid the photographic fieldguides such as the Audubon Society guides or the Stokes guides. They are perfectly fine for cross reference, but are not the best for field identification. However, if you feel you would like to refer to actual photographs, the new Kaufman Focus Guide to Birds of North America is easily the best.


Birding at the Bottom of the Bay: South San Francisco Bay
A birder's site guide from Santa Clara Audubon Society

San Francisco Peninsula Birdwatching
A guide to San Mateo County birding spots by the Sequoia Audubon Society

Birding Northern California: A Falcon Guide
John Kemper/Falcon

Birding in the American West: A Handbook
Kevin J. Zimmer/Cornell University Press

The Cooper Ornithological Club maintains an online archive of their out of print editions. Valuable resources such as the famous The Distribution of the Birds of California by Grinnell and Miller (1944) are available here (in pdf format), as well as other seminal editions that will interest the research-birder. All of these were published by the Cooper Ornitholigical Club and printed by the University Press in Berkeley, CA. Once considered essential, now they are almost impossible to find. Simply scroll down the list to find the titles and download options, but beware, these are large files! The Directory to the Bird-Life of the San Francisco Bay Region by Grinnell and Wythe (1927) and A Distributional List of the Birds of California by Grinnell (1915) are also of great interest to local birders.


Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior
David Allen Sibley/Knopf
If you're going to add one more book to your bird library to compliment your field guide, this should be it. Richly illustrated, thorough and accessible, not to mention a good text book for class.

Complete Birds of North America
Edited by Jonathan Alderfer/National Geographic
All bird families are introduced with generous articles, each species illustrated or photographed, and in many cases it borrows detailed migration maps from the 2003 NGS Atlas of birds. Very similar in concept to the Kaufman "Lives of North American Birds" but a superior and more up to date volume.

Lives of North American Birds: Peterson Natural History Companion Series
Ken Kaufman/Houghtin Mifflin Co.
A wonderful, species-by-species account of American birds. It goes a long way toward filling in the blanks left by the more clinical identification guides.

Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion:
A Comprehensive Resource for Identifying North American Birds

Pete Dunne/Houghton Mifflin Co.
This monumental work describes each North American Bird in detail, emphasizing behavior and the general impression of size and shape, or "GISS" in great detail, as opposed to dwelling on tradiitional field marks. It's not a field guide, in fact there are no illustrations at all. It is simply an indepth account of each bird's being, and takes great efforts to describe how, for example, Chimney Swifts and Vaux's Swifts differ in size, shape and flight style. It is already on my top shelf and should be required reading for any serious birder.

Sibley's Birding Basics
David Allen Sibley/Knopf
Imagine this as an extended introduction to the Sibley Guide to Birds. It's gives valuable background information on how to observe birds and recognize the most important features. Plumage, molt pattern, vocalizations and structure are discussed in general terms to familiarize birders, both new and experienced, with how to be better observers. Highly recommended!

Bird Tracks and Sign: A guide to North American Species
by Mark Elbroch, Eleanor Marks, C. Diane Boretos/Stackpole Books
This great new book gives you the detective tools to recognize the presence of numerous bird species without actually seeing them. Evidence such as Owl pellets, Woodpecker holes, footprints, dropped feathers, skulls, etc. all indicate the presence of specific birds. It's a very good reference for those who want to "read" the forest like a tracker.

Birder's Dictionary
Randall T. Cox/Falcon Publishing, Inc.


ABA Checklist: Birds of the Continental United States and Canada
American Birding Association
(Only available through ABA. Visit the ABA Sales site at or call 800.850.2473)

Note: Most state and national parks have checklists available for a small fee at their headquarters. County checklists, like the Santa Clara County checklist I will distribute in class, are often the most useful for birders. They are available through local Audubon chapters. For contact information of local Audubon chapters, refer to the Links portion of this site.


Birds of Northern California: An Annotated Field List
Golden Gate Audubon Society (Only available through GGAS. Visit the GGAS site at: or call 510.843.2222)


Bird Songs of California
This Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology 3-cd set is similar in format to the Stokes set, but is a marked improvement. It covers only California species, presenting longer samples of each and only one species per track. As well, many documented subspecies are treated separately to present a thorough examination of all vocalizations. An excellent book describes each song at lenght to aid in learning. Highly recommended!

Stokes Field Guide to Bird Song: Western Region
This is the one I use in class for our song lessons. It has 4 cds with longer samples and more species found in Western U.S. than the Peterson, but I actually own both.

Peterson Field Guides: Western Birding by Ear
Richard K. Walton & Robert W. Lawson (available through ABA or at the Discovery Shop). I recommend it highly for people who have no prior experience with bird song. It familiarizes the listener with the necessary vocabulary to describe (and identify) the many songs they may hear in the Western U.S. It is a series of short lectures on various kinds of bird vocalizations. It's fun to listen to during the morning commute and after a few listens, you'd be surprised how much you remember. Highly recommended.

Peterson Field Guides: Western Bird Song
Most of the birds west of the Rockies are represented here, and it is organized to follow the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds.


Nat'l Audubon Society Interactive CD-ROM Guide to North American Birds
(both PC and MAC)

Note: There are many software programs available, being a MAC person, I can only speak for this one title. It seems to be the only one which works on both platforms. Others, especially the Thayer's CD are supposed to be wonderful. They are all available through the ABA.


David Attenborough's Life of Birds
Wow! I can't recommend this BBC series enough! Available on both DVD and Video this will certainly be a cherished addition to any birder's media library. Organized thematically: The decision to fly, Breeding and courtship, The trials of egg laying, Survival, Communication etc. David handles complicated biological issues with his casual English flair. Rent it, buy it or steal it from a friend, but watch this wonderful documentary!

Audubon Society's Video Guide to Birds of North America
This fantastic, five video set provides a rare opportunity to "watch" a field guide as it takes you through the various identification points of more than 500 North American Birds. It can be ordered by calling Audubon Magazine/MasterVision at 1-800-876-0091.