The Warbler Guide

The Warbler Guide is not just a field guide for identifying 56 North American species of wood-warbler, but more a textbook for home study. This photo-packed book not only teaches you what field marks to use but includes other tools such as moult, habitat, timing, hybrids, songs and calls, and even similar non-warbler species, to figure out this tricky group of birds. The drawings by Catherine Hamilton round out features that photos cannot easily communicate, such as tail patterns and colour palette impressions.

The guide starts with what to focus on in the field to identify a warbler, from outer tail feathers to rumps and wing-bars. Warblers move quickly, and knowing what to watch for can help when you only see that Connecticut Warbler for a scant few seconds before it skulks into cover. Readers can also learn the basics of moult and how that can help differentiate tricky autumn-plumaged birds.

What makes this book unique is its use of warbler sonograms to teach a new way of separating the songs and calls of different species. Even without a musical background or parabolic microphone, the use of sonograms as a visual aid can help learn the difference between a Chestnut-sided Warbler and an American Redstart. This technique may not be for everyone, but could be more useful than mnemonics like ‘Please to, please to, please to meet ya’.
The individual species accounts incorporate such details as the parts of a tree in which you are most likely to see each species, as well as a range map. The photos are not just the ‘pretty’ shots, but rather how you would actually see a warbler in the field, perhaps obscured by a branch, with only the cheek visible. The accounts also feature similar-looking birds so you get a side-by-side comparison.

What really makes this book special from other North American warbler books is the chapter entitled Quiz and Review. Photographs of birds in natural positions are offered, and you get the chance to work out identification on your own and then go through the authors’ explanation of the correct identity.

Weight-wise, the book is a beast. However, the publisher Princeton University Press has made eight pages of the ‘quick finders’ available free online, including just the tails, the face or whole body perched or in flight. Print them out and keep them in a pocket or store them on your smartphone or iPad if you take that in the field. Similarly, a new sound guide is also available (see panel for links to both).

This book is essential for anyone planning a North American trip in spring or autumn, when these colourful hoards move through the continent.