For the Birds Radio Program: Book Review: Birdfinder, A Birder's Guide to Planning North American Trips

Original Air Date: March 4, 1996

How do birders know where all the good birds are? Laura Erickson describes some of the books that tell birders where to go.

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Lately I’ve been hungry to go new places and see new birds. My lifelist is at 560, and I long to reach 600 before the turn of the century. Stay-at-home mommies who volunteer at public radio stations never seem to amass enough money to go on birding trips, but lately I’ve been saving up and getting organized. I’m going to Nebraska this month to see the annual Sandhill Crane migration, and in April I’m heading for Colorado to see Sage Grouse and Lesser Prairie¬≠ Chickens doing their fancy mating displays.

How do birders know the best places to go and the best times to go there? It’s partly word-of¬≠ mouth, but mostly we read books titled “Birder’s Guides.” There are birders’ guides to most states now. Kim Eckert wrote “A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota,” and Daryl Tessen edited “Wisconsin’s Favorite Bird Haunts.” Kim’s guide, which is one of the best in the country, goes through the state county by county, with directions to just about every location where a good bird has ever been seen. He provides an annotated list of every species ever seen in the state, stating how likely it is to see each bird and where it is most likely to be found. Some extraordinarily bird-rich states, like Arizona and Texas, are covered by more than one birder’s guide. If you’re going on vacation and want to enjoy nature at all, it’s a good idea to browse through one of these books for ideas about the best places–after all, places that attract lots of birds are usually aesthetically pleasing in other ways, too–except of course for sewage treatment ponds. They’re all available through the American Birding Association, and many bird feeding outlets keep a good variety in stock.

I just bought a new kind of birder’s guide, titled BIRDFINDER: A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO PLANNING NORTH AMERICAN TRIPS, written by Jerry Cooper and published by the American Birding Association. This book describes in detail when and where to go on 19 separate North American trips, from California to Maine, and Florida to Alaska; in order to see a total of over 650 species. It also has 12 brief trip descriptions to places such as Nebraska’s Platte River, where one isn’t likely to add a lot of new species but will see some spectacular bird sights. Of the total 31 recommended trips, I’ve been on 8 already, but I hope to do it all eventually. This is the book that inspired me to plan this year’s trips, and next year I’ll follow its plan on trips to California and Florida.

Unlike typical birder’s guides, which include a lot of out-of-the way spots and information about mammals and reptiles as well as birds, Birdfinder focuses entirely on listing lots of birds. And Cooper prefers quantity over quality–for example, to maximize the number of species in spring, he plots out spring trips to far-away spots, and as a trade-off recommends looking for Lesser Prairie-Chickens in Oklahoma in winter. I’d personally rather miss some other birds in spring to see the Prairie Chicken doing its spectacular mating dance.

So I don’t recommend this book for general nature-lovers. But anyone interested in amassing a long list of birds or learning where you’re most likely to see various species can’t go wrong adding Birdfinder to a bird library.