Complete Birds of North America| Book Review

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America is in its Third Edition and this gorgeous book comprises 752 pages of textual information and visual references for bird enthusiasts of all degrees – from the casual birdwatcher who throws breadcrumbs in the park hoping to attract pigeons or sparrows, to the binocular-toting birdwatcher who ventures into the woods to observe the less-domestic of our feathered friends in their natural habitat. The reference book is said to profile every bird species in the continental United States and Canada but also includes some information about bird life in Greenland and Bermuda. How’s that for completeness! Updates from the first edition published in 2005 to this one include new species and family distinctions that have been identified in the past decade and a half, with text and paintings added for each one so that this book is as complete a reference as is possible. The National Geographic Field Guide is meant to compliment this work, so that the birder can tote the smaller guide on birdwatching outings and then use this book for stay-at-home, encyclopedic poring.

I have been interested in knowing more about birds since my childhood in Jamaica when I observed captive parrots for sale and my parents encouraged me to think about why such beautiful birds would be consigned to living away from their natural lifestyle. Since then, I have gone on birdwatching excursions in backyards, parks and wilderness settings, watched various documentaries and read books hoping to learn more about the order of birds and the more I learn, the more fascinated I become. Flipping through Complete Birds of North America only whets that appetite and makes me more eager to test some of this knowledge out in the wild. 

Complete Birds of North America is arranged by family groups – there are 95 families (Duck, Geese and Swans all belong to a family; Pigeons are a separate family; and Owls are split between Barn Owls and Typical Owls so even the Table of Contents in this book is informational. (The Index can be used to search for individual species) Among other things, the descriptions of families, species and sub-species lists general characteristics, habits, migration and dispersal patterns, that can be used for bird identification, but also lists similar species with a guide to the distinguishing marks that can be used to make more correct IDs.  You can even find textual description of bird calls within these pages. There are lots of details included here, some of which will not be relevant to the casual bird enthusiast who only wants to identify the pretty red-headed bird that visits her backyard feeder in the summer, but the comprehensive nature of the book is that it will be sufficient for whatever your level of interest. Being able to read what you want to know now and then cycle back to a page when you want further details means that this kind of presentation always has greater potential without ever being overwhelming. Some of the more sophisticated information may include Bird Banding Codes – abbreviations of the species name – and the Abundance and Conservation Code Acronyms that are placed at the end of each entry; these give some insight into whether a species is now or has ever been endangered. 

While this will be an interesting book for anyone to flip through and try to identify common birds and learn more about them, it is also a place to come back to as you start to observe other birds and want to learn more about them. 

Complete Birds of North America should be part of the reference library of all bird enthusiasts.


Book Details

  • Title: Complete Birds of North America
  • Editors: Jonathan Adler; John L. Dunn
  • Publisher: National Geographic
  • Publication Date: November 2, 2021
  • Format: Hardback, Color photographs and paintings
  • Pages: 752


Publisher Synopsis

This desk reference is the most up-to-date and comprehensive source of knowledge on North American bird identification, distribution, behavior, habitat, and conservation concerns available today. 
More an encyclopedia than a field guide, National Geographic’s Complete Birds is a browsable treasure trove of facts. This comprehensive volume profiles every bird observable in the continental United States and Canada, featuring species accounts with details that include calls and songs, breeding behaviors, molting patterns, and the vast extent of their polar and neotropical migrations. The precision maps, illuminating photographs, and more than 4,000 exquisite pieces of annotated art make this the biggest and best bird book ever. 
This third edition, thoroughly updated, includes:

  • Information on more than 1,000 species and subspecies
  • Overviews of every family
  • Organization reflecting current taxonomy
  • 850 range maps, more than half updated since the last edition
  • Sidebars on identification challenges such as distinguishing between Bay-breasted and Blackpoll Warblers in fall or separating the various species of white egrets

These 752 pages add up to a lifetime of learning for all devoted birders, from those just beginning birders to those who have been building their life lists for decades. 
Bird lovers will appreciate many other titles from National Geographic, including: 

  • Field Guide to the Birds of North America
  • Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America
  • How to Know the Birds 
  • Birds of the Photo Ark

Purchase Links: IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and National Geographic Publishers for providing me a complimentary copy of this book in order for me to compete this review. I was not otherwise compensated and this review reflects my honest opinion and genuine enthusiasm for the book. 

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