Now and then I'm moved to exclaim, "Wow!" at something exciting in birding.  Usually its a bird seen by me or (with envy) others.  Now and then it is something new to help birders.  This is one of those times.

I've just started poring over my new 6th edition National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.  "Wow!"

No field guide is perfect.  No one guide can do it all.  That said, this one comes mighty close.  

One aspect is considered a fault by many, and I admit it put off my original purchase until the 2nd edition:  it doesn't fit in a regular pocket.  In fact, the 6th is about a half-inch wider than its predecessor.

I got over that size thing with earlier versions.  This one is the best yet.

Some real pluses:  

990 species depicted, including most of those one-timers Paul Lehman keeps turning up on St. Lawrence Island, but also some special birds seen by several Missourians, like the Amazon Kingfisher at Laredo in 2010, and the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron at Bentsen in 2009-10.  

These are in a special section in the back with good-sized illustrations and discussions of their field marks, normal range and the appearance(s) in the ABA area.  Others, like the Black-vented Oriole, not quite so rare, appear with their more common cousins in the main body of the book.  All this means we won't have to tote extra books when looking for that mega-vagrant.

Those pesky warblers with their revised recognized relationships (and, therefore, genus names) are in there for us to relearn.

There is a succinct discussion of the ABA and AOU committees, their functions and the resultant checklists.

The plates are really very good and have, in addition to the lines pointing to special field marks, short statements pointing out differences in similar species (nice treatment of the Night-Herons, for example).

Range maps are more refined than we're used to, and have really good depiction of migration routes.

A Super Bonus is the section in the back depicting ranges for 37 species with subspecies ranges and migration ranges for most.  These are really great for figuring out what subspecies is likely to be seen where and to point a birder to what differences might be expected when traveling (OCWA in southern California don't look like the ones we see coming through Missouri, for instance.  It is also a good "heads up" for noting differences of subspecies that might be subject to future splits.

One subspecies map caught my eye and answered questions raised about Cackling Geese recently.  The various Cackling breeding ranges, migration routes and wintering ranges are depicted.  I was surprised to see that Aleutian gets all the way down through Baja.  It gets a little further east than I'd thought:  Colorado River valley in western Nevada & se Arizona.

I'm sure I'll find more to intrigue, entertain and educate me as I dig deeper into the National Geo 6th edition.

To sum up, I will continue to recommend the National Geographic field guide to beginning and intermediate birders as their primary guide.  All really experienced  birders will find information in this sixth edition to make its purchase worthwhile.  You may even find that soon you are looking at it first and your old favorite has migrated to the second layer of the stack.

Edge Wade
Columbia, MO
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