Book Review: Finding Your Wings

Finding Wings 0618782168_hresFinding Your Wings: A Workbook for Beginning Bird Watchers, by Burton Guttman, Houghton Mifflin Company (http://www.hmhco.com), 2008, 206 pages, $ 14.95.

To the beginning bird watcher cracking open a field guide for the first time, bird identification can be a challenging and daunting task. Sussing out which little brown bird (LBB) is bellying up to your blackberry bushes or gleaning insects from atop a backyard perch with nothing but a mugshot and brief Twitter of natural history notes can be frustrating to those uninitiated in the ways of the experienced birder. Recognizing this, in 2008 Peterson Field Guides released Finding Your Wings, a companion workbook to the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds (3rd ed.) and Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America (5th ed.) guidebooks, to help bridge this gap through a more traditional classroom approach.

Finding Your Wings is a workbook for beginning bird watchers that leans on an informal lecture regimen to teach basic concepts. Scattered throughout the text are activities and quizzes designed to help beginners learn how to sort and lump common birds and identify key characteristics necessary to hone in on a confident bird ID. Because experienced birders become seasoned only through years of practice, Finding Your Wings eases beginners into developing those skill sets by challenging them to identify a bird using anything from its silhouette to a few off-hand traits to the season and location of observation to its gestalt – all common scenarios birders face every day. Guttman emphasize the importance of truly ‘seeing’ birds – not just that there’s a LBB on a branch, but that there is bird perched upright on an overhanging limb with a slender bill, a brown back, a streaked breast, and that carries itself fearlessly (a thrush?!?). As the title suggests, Finding Your Wings is all about finding, practicing, and developing your confidence in bird identification.

If you have any intention of working your way through this workbook, a copy of the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds’ 3rd edition (despite it having been superseded by the 4th edition in 2010) is a must since the workbook repeatedly refers to specific pages and plates in the 3rd edition as a point of reference. But don’t worry that either might be out of date – the taxonomy may change with each edition, but the birds remain the same. And the birds are what birding is all about.

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