Book Review - The Warbler Guide

When I was a young birdwatcher growing up in Wisconsin in the 1960s, I used to sit and look through this book from National Geographic called THE SONG AND GARDEN BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. One bird that had a full page picture was the Red-faced Warbler. I was quite taken with this colorful bird, and longed to visit the western US so that I could see one (This finally came true for me in May, 1988 on a trip to SE Arizona). This picture also made me enamored of warblers in general. So when I first learned of the existence of this book, I thought "Wow, a 500+ page book on nothing but warblers! What do we have here." Warblers are a fun family, because they are beautiful, are often a challenge to identify. So I asked myself the following question: "How can this book help me better identify and enjoy warblers?" This blog post seeks to evaluate this book around that question.

A quick listing of what is in this book:

  • Covers all 56 species of warblers in the United States and Canada
  • Visual quick finders help you identify warblers from any angle
  • Song and call finders make identification easy using a few simple questions
  • Uses sonograms to teach a new system of song identification that makes it easier to understand and hear differences between similar species
  • Detailed species accounts show multiple views with diagnostic points, direct comparisons of plumage and vocalizations with similar species, and complete aging and sexing descriptions
  • New aids to identification include song mnemonics and icons for undertail pattern, color impression, habitat, and behavior
  • Includes field exercises, flight shots, general identification strategies, and quizzes

  • My overarching impression of this book is that it contains an impressive amount of data (hats off to the authors for a stellar job of organization and compilation - it had to have been a "labor of love") including a lot of terrific photographs! I especially like the full page bird photos associated with each species sections and the pictures of birds from below. The full page photos are striking and beautiful. The pictures from below are a great addition because sometimes that is all you get and now you can take a shot at identification. I have focused on these two sets of photos but as I say there is a remarkable number of very good photos that will help any birder, beginning or advanced, identify these birds.

    Figure 1. - Species Account page 1

    Figure 2. - Species Account page 2 - Note maps and migration time spans
    during Spring and Fall shown in lower right

    Figure 3. - Species Account page 3 - Sonograms

    Figure 4. - Sonogram close-up

    Figure 5. - Supporting Chapter "What to Notice on a Warbler"

    Another interesting aspect of the book is its treatment of songs. There is a section entitled "How to Listen to Warbler Songs" that outlines a system for learning and recognizing the songs of warblers. The authors state: "With careful study, this system of analyzing songs and calls will lead to a more confident identification of songs in the field'. Certainly I am all for this, and plan to work on this over the winter (and beyond) in expectation of the coming spring migration. 

    They use sonograms (visual representations of the song - see Figures 3 and 4 above) and define a number of terms to describe the structure and organization of songs: Elements (each separate sound you hear), Phrases (groups of Elements e.g. the three Element Phrases of the Common Yellowthroat that often repeated three times) and Sections (a collection of the same sounding Phrases). The explanations in the book are much better because you can see the songs on the page, I only mention this a preface to my discussion of a song that I have struggled with - the Canada Warbler. On page 73 they talk about this song:

    "Among eastern warblers, a short song with so many unique Sections is a diagnostic ID point for Canada Warbler" 

    Interesting and helpful point that I plan to remember and use in the field!

    A detail that I also really like are the maps and migration time spans for the Spring and Fall in wiht the species accounts. I have found bar graphs of time spans in a little checklist book "Wisconsin Birds" but this is the first time I have seen it with a species account. This migration info is great to have!

    There is a supporting chapter called "What to Notice on a Warbler" that I found interesting. Right away they talked about a concept I had not thought about - Contrast. They talk about tonal contrast and color contrast and how this concept can be used to ID birds. This is a unique idea that I have not encountered before. This looks a good chapter to read and study during the winter.

    If you're like me, you are always looking to learn things about birds and get better as a birder. I think this book will definitely help me to get better at identifying warblers and will also serve as a source of pleasure in looking a the beautiful photos (which I am want to do). It is a fine addition to any birdwatcher's library.


    Audubon: Warbler, 1827-38

    Black & Yellow Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica Magnolia), Plate CXXIII, from 'The Birds of America'

    Audubon: Warbler

    Audubon: Warbler

    Bay Breasted Wood-Warbler

    Audubon: Warbler, 1827-38


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