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As you begin to watch birds more and more either in your back garden, local park or further afield, you may start to find that you come across birds that you don't recognise. If you want to identify birds accurately then you will need a field guide.

Bird Field Guide

A bird watching field guide is at its simplest an illustrated reference book but there are thousands of different kinds of field guide available covering information about birds such as habitat, breeding habits and migratory patterns.

You can also get field guides that are region or country specific or that cover even smaller areas such as parks, nature reserves and bird watching trails.

Although it may be tempting to pick a field guide that just covers your local area to begin with it would be better to choose one that covers a fairly good range. As your skill grows so your bird watching terrain will increase and a local field guide will only limit you. For bird watching in the UK one that covers the whole of the British Isles should be sufficient as a starter guide.

The next thing to consider is ease of use. Although a large field guide may have more pictures and information in it you may find it difficult to carry with you when you are out in the field. The ideal bird field guide is compact and can easily be slipped into a pocket. Over time your bird book library will increase which means you can look up further information once you are back home.

You also need to decide whether you want a bird book with illustrations or photographs. When identifying new species many people prefer drawings and illustrations to photos.

A photo field guide will have photographs taken by a professional photographer and although they may be beautifully shot they are unlikely to capture all the markings or show different pictures of birds in seasonal plumage. Lighting and weather conditions will also change the way a bird looks in a photograph so it may be difficult for you to make a visual comparison.

An illustration will be a lot more technical and show all the physical traits used to identify birds. They will also highlight the differences between the sexes and show changes that may come about as a bird matures as well as seasonal plumages.

Once you have selected your field guide read it through to familiarise yourself with it and learn how to use the instructions. If your first attempts to identify a bird are unsuccessful don’t give up. The more you use your guide the simpler it will become so when you are out in the field you will be able to quickly reference the bird you are trying to identify.

Take a look at these bird field guides for some of our recommendations.

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