Book Review

By Elias Zuniga

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition. By David Allen Sibley

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds has long been considered by many to be
the standard-bearer among field guides to birds of North America.
However, at thirteen years old, it was much in need of an update.
Enter the Second Edition of Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds, released
March 11th. As good as the first edition was, the new second edition
is significant update and much improved.

Immediately apparent are some superficial changes: new fonts and maps for example, and much bolder drawings. Species are of course updated: Rock Dove is now Rock Pigeon for example; Orange Bishop and Nutmeg Mannikin now get their own profile pages. Importantly, Sibley now includes many more rarities like Blue Mockingbird. (One hundred and eleven total new species!) Still, more improvements beyond taxonomic updates are substantial and helpful, and sure to aid you in identification.

Perhaps most noticeable are the bold colors in the drawings. Gone is
the soft “watercolor” look that many birds had, while retaining the
accuracy that Sibley is known for. When possible, the drawings have
gotten gotten larger and more distinct without diminishing accuracy,
making it easier to see distinguishing details. (Petrels and swifts
now look more unique, for example, and Orange-crown Warbler now has
that more “difficult to describe” drab color.) Range maps now zoom in
when possible; (much less squinting for species that have small
ranges) and are updated. (Brown Thrasher is now listed as rare (one to
a few occurrences every year) throughout the west, for example.)

One area that I’ve always found Sibley excelled at is the helpful
behavior tips. Hummingbird shuttle displays, spinning Phalaropes,
upside-down chickadees and road-post perching Red-tail Hawks (and all
the others from the first edition) remain. But to these Sibley has
added even more. For example, there are now nine hummingbird shuttle displays and there’s a drawing of a large flock of European Starlings mobbing a bird of prey. Woodpecker drumming patterns are now visualized and compared.

Common Nighthawk, First Edition

Common Nighthawk, 2nd Edition

Nutmeg Mannikin and Orange Bishop, 1st Edition

Nutmeg Mannikin and Orange Bishop, 2nd Edition

Warbler-like Birds, 2nd Edition

Finally, Sibley begins many sections with helpful tips for difficult cases, so Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawks are compared, as are dowitchers, sandpipers, cormorants, gnatcatcher undertails, and even downy young ducks. (And many more!) If you’ve never had a Sibley Guide, now is the time to get one; if you already have the first edition, this new edition is certainly a worthy upgrade as well.

An interview with David Sibley at Birdwatching Daily nicely explains Sibley’s thinking behind the updates; I recommend reading it.