How to Know the Birds by Ted Floyd
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426220036
Hardcover, $28, 295 pages
Although the beautiful cover of Birding magazine editor Ted Floyd's How to Know the Birds may lead you to believe that this will be your typical book about birds, you would be wrong.
Many bird books are field guides, with page after page of color photos or drawings of birds, along with short descriptions of what the bird look like and where you find them. Floyd's book is different. He begins by describing the history of birding, referencing the seminal books in the field. It was a quiet, gentle, often solitary study by people with sketchpads, pencils, binoculars and notebooks.
Then he takes us into the present, where birding has evolved like most things- people use their smartphones to take photos to upload to numerous Facebook pages devoted to birding. There are apps to help birders organize and connect with other birders. It is much more immediate and social.
Floyd introduces us to 200 bird species, each one getting a page but not necessarily a drawing. (There are a small number of beautiful pencil drawings by N. John Schmitt that accompany some of the text.)
The contents are divided into six sections, organized by the calendar year, beginning with Spark Bird, which covers January-February. He discusses the birds you will likely find during those months in North America, gives the common name for the bird, such as American Robin, then its scientific name Turdus migratorius, which always capitalizes the first letter of the first name and the second name always begins with a smaller case letter.
He gives you a short description of the bird, and interesting fact about the bird that is the title of the page. For the essay titled He Says, She Says, we learn about the Great Horned Owl and the difference between the sounds the male and female makes. In The Upside of Human-Modified Landscapes, he talks about the Canada Goose and how these geese have evolved to "flourish in human-dominated landscapes" living near high-rise office buildings, on golf courses and wreaking havoc near airports.
Floyd sprinkles in pop culture references, talking about the movie On Golden Pond in the essay about the Common Loon, or comparing a Star Trek TV series scene to a large nest which holds a tiny Bushtit. He of course mentions the Jack Black/Steve Martin movie The Big Year, perhaps the only movie about birding ever made.
The book ends with a helpful checklist of all the birds described by species.
How to Know the Birds is really written for the person who enjoys birding as a serious hobby more than for a person looking to get into birding. It would make a wonderful gift for your favorite birder, maybe in an Easter basket.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Ted Floyd's tour. The rest of his stops are here: