For the Birds

Birds of North America coverA Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America
Robbins, Bruun, and Zim

Submitter: In addition to being a librarian, I’m a bird geek – and being a librarian bird geek, I have a long-standing personal beef with out-of-date field guides. This doesn’t mean beautiful, illustrated classics like Audubon, but a basic guide you would borrow to take on a hike. Recent genetic research has made sweeping changes to the taxonomic order of birds – this lists species in an evolutionary sequence from most ancient to most modern. Every serious bird field guide is organized in taxonomic order. There have also been many changes to both the scientific (i.e. Latin) and common names of birds… and unlike most living things, birds have official, standardized names (in English at least). Example: on page 58 of this guide, you will find a duck called “Oldsquaw.” What you won’t find in this 1966 Golden edition is that the name Oldsquaw – which bats for the triple on ageism, sexism and racism – was changed decades ago to “Long-tailed Duck.” This book also contains “Traill’s Flycatcher,” which has been split into several species, and five different types of sparrows called Juncos. Our Juncos have long since been lumped together into one species – Dark-eyed Junco. The saddest part of this story is: this book was added to the collection of my small public library (not by me!) around *2008* when this edition was *already* hopelessly out of date. ‘Bye, Felicia. Do your public library patrons a favor and conduct the Oldsquaw/Traill’s/Junco test on your bird guides.

Holly: I don’t think it takes a bird geek to figure out that you don’t add a 1966 field guide to a small public library collection in 2008. Submitter points out all the reasons why bird geeks will think this is ridiculous – and it is.





  1. Very glad to see this here. As the son of a birder, I often have to explain to colleagues and volunteers why “beautiful old bird books” should be replaced by newer materials. Yes, the illustrations are lovely, but the information does date.

  2. I had several Golden Guides as a teen. They were beautiful to look through.
    I agree that this book would be useless for birders but it could be a very nice thing to have for decoupage in a crafts class.

  3. Lovely illustrations. If the originals still exist, you could print them as a coffee-table book.

  4. Another reason for adding a new guide rather than one that’s already out of date is that the newer guides often provide links or QR codes for accessing recordings of bird calls. These are invaluable identification tools! My eyes told me that what I was seeing was not the usual house sparrow, and the Internet gave me several choices, but it was a sound recording that confirmed I’d seen a chipping sparrow.

  5. While I agree that old field guides need to be replaced with new field guides–I must go to bat for this little book and other nice old field guides. They often contain super information that is still correct but isn’t the same old information replicated in numerous online sources. Also, as long as you know about changes or have new guides on hand, the old guides provide a lot of history. OK, I know that’s not why someone’s taking a book on a hike…for that, get the new guide! But THIS was the book that inspired many kids growing up in the ’70s to go out and find birds and learn about them. I used this book until it literally fell apart and still have it, rubber-banded together…

    …which is not to say you shouldn’t reclaim your shelf space and get a new guide in the library 🙂 It IS time to retire this one. Anyway, the new one will be outdated in a week, given all the splitting and lumping that ornithologists do!

    1. Hear, hear. Totally agree. This book is for the average family, and probably sparked at least a mild interest in bird watching for probably millions. I, too, have a beat-up old version around. Work perfectly fine when I want to show my wife what a cedar waxwing looks like.

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