Smithsonian Handbooks Bird Guides: An Overview of the Popular Birdwatching Books

The Smithsonian Handbooks series of birdwatching guides contains books for several regions. Specifically, Birds of Florida, Birds of North America: West, Birds of North America: East, Birds of New England, Birds of Texas and Birds of the Mid-Atlantic. Having a guidebook that highlights birds specifically in your region saves valuable time when trying to identify a bird correctly, and also minimizes cases of mistaken identity.


  • Photos: The photos are large and clear, showing the full body of the bird. Body parts crucial to identification of the particular bird (i.e. black legs, hooked beak, or whitish buff underparts) are labeled. Some guidebooks have photos of the birds lumped together on several pages, with the birds’ profiles elsewhere. This book has the bird’s picture on the same page as its profile.
  • Organization: It is easy to find the information you’re looking for. Birds are in taxonomic order. Or, an alphabetical index in the back allows you to find your bird by name. Each bird’s profile clearly explains the following: Song, Behavior, Breeding, Nesting, Population, and Conservation. Each page lists the same information in the same spot, including color-coded info on Plumage, Habitat, Weight, Length, Wingspan, and Migration.
  • Visuals: Flight Patterns, Nest Identification, and Similar Birds are all aided with clear visuals. A map of each birds’ range is color-coded to indicate whether it inhabits an area in summer, winter, or year-round.
  • Useful Information: Sections on Anatomy and Topography, How To Identify a Bird, Bird Silhouttes, How to Be a Better Birder, and more are icing on the cake for beginning birdwatchers. The book also includes a section on Accidental, Vagrant, and Casual Species, just in case you spot a bird that is not usually in your region.
  • Size and Durability: Though some birders carry around teeny-weeny pocket guides, many prefer not having to squint to look up birds. This book is 8.4 x 5.9 x 1.8 inches. It’s small enough to fit in a large purse or small backpack. Weighing in at about 2 ½ pounds, it has a satisfying heft and solidarity. The cover is thick and durable and can tolerate a certain amount of liquid spillage.


  • No Notes: There is no section for birders to mark down their own observations, meditations, and ramblings.
  • No Checklist: There is no checklist for birders to mark off the birds they have seen.

Overall, priced at a reasonable $23 per book, the Smithsonian series are a great addition to any birdwatcher’s library.