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Birds of Prey East and Birds of Prey West

birds of prey

Two new guides on North American raptors have been released by Princeton University Press.  The text and illustrations are both by  well-known artist and hawk expert Brian Wheeler.  The author describes the books as “enhanced” field guides, with more information than a typical filed guide but smaller and more useable than a handbook.

The written descriptions are comprehensive and easy to understand.  Much of the text is related to specific illustrations.

For example:

The description of the juvenile Mississippi Kite includes 17 different comments related to 17 different illustrations on the facing page.

For 1-year-old and adult Mississippi Kites there are 19 different comments related to the 19 different illustrations on the facing page.

Raptors can be a difficult group to contend with.  Several hawk species, such as the Swainsoin’s Hawk and the Rough-legged Hawk have both a light and dark color phase.   The Red-tailed Hawk has a very pale version, known as  Krider’s Red-taied Hawk, and an almost all-black version known as Harlan’s Hawk, with many intermediate color patterns.

The book provides small, but clear illustrations of each color morph or race of each covered raptor.  For example, there are over 40 illustrations of just the tail patterns of varies phases of the Red-tailed Hawk.  The details shown on many of the illustrations, such as with the the tail feathers of the Red-tailed Hawk, would be difficult to discern in the field but will provide the serious student with a tremendous amount of information.

Range maps:
The range maps are generally a full page in size and some show ranges of a particular subspecies.  The maps show winter, summer and permanent ranges as well as isolated sighting or nesting locations.    Some maps show summer, winter and all season dispersal ranges.   The maps show excellent detail and may be most useful for reporting sighting outside of the normal range of a particular species.

Who will enjoy the guides:
The guides will be most useful for someone with a keen interest in raptors, including subtle details of plumages and descriptions of individual subspecies.   Information on sexing and aging is provided in great detail.

Less popular with:
If you are like me, and satisfied with being able to identify a raptor at the species level, you may find the amount of information overwhelming.

The book does a good job illustrating hawks in flight but I find the old standby of “Hawks in Flight” (now 2nd edition) by Pete Dunne, David Sibley and Clay Sutton to be more useful for identifying hawks in flight.  Or combine both guides to really hone your raptor identification skills.

The author is certainly a subject mater expert.  The guide livers up to  the authors description of providing far more detail than most other guides while maintaining the size of a typical field guide.

Available on Amazon, print price currently $26.76,  Kindle price $27.95.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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