New book establishes authority as standard for bird identification

One of my favorite perks about this outdoor writer gig is the opportunity to review new books before they are available to the public. When I was given the chance to see an advanced copy of All About Birds Midwest, I jumped at the opportunity.

At first look, it reminded me of the Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Birds that had been at my mom and dad’s house. Roger Torey Peterson published his first guide in 1934, and the copy I have is dated 1980. I’ll still use it as a reference, but the book from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sets a new standard.

Instead of Peterson’s illustrations, the new book features multiple detailed, zoom photographs of each bird. Every page has a range map, and description including details considered the keys to bird identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. A special note about each species is also included.

Published by Princeton Press, the series includes All About Birds books for California, Texas and Oklahoma, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast and the Midwest. Missouri marks the southern edge for the Midwest book, and includes states east to Indiana, west to Kansas and the Dakota, and into central Canada.

The Midwest book highlights 221 of the most common species for the region. The details and images are a collection of information from the website by The Cornell Lab, which also offers a free bird ID app called Merlin.

The introductory portion of the book includes tips for beginner bird-watchers, basics for good bird photography, tricks for attracting birds to your backyard feeder, features of a good birdhouse, and ways to get involved in protecting bird species.

According to the new book, “the ruby-throated hummingbird is the sole breeding hummingbird in the eastern US and Canada. These precision flying creatures glitter in the full sun, and are common at feeders, and in flower gardens in the summer. In the fall, they head south, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight.”

Hummingbird feeders come in a variety shapes and styles. Finding one with a look you like should be easy. An important consideration is ease of cleaning, because while filling the feeder is simple, keeping the feeder clean and nectar fresh is essential.

The standard sugar-water recipe calls for four parts water and one part sugar. Boiling the water is not required, and plain white cane sugar is the best bet. Homemade nectar should never be made with honey, brown sugar, fruit or other substitute. It can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Adding red food color to the water is discouraged, but most prepared nectar mixes include red dye. There is scant evidence that the artificial color is harmful for the little birds, but it is not necessary so why risk it.

Originally published by Leader Publications on April 6, 2022.

Published by John J. Winkelman

A freelance outdoor writer for more than 30 years

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