Compact, beautifully illustrated, and crammed with information, the Princeton Field Guide second edition of Birds of Europe is a wonderful resource for any birder planning to visit Europe. That said, I don’t plan to visit Europe soon. And I’m sure many young birders would rather visit South America first. So why would you or I be interested in this guide?
As an avid young birder who dreams of the world outside her own North American bubble, my shelves are full of exotic field guides: Mexico, Costa Rica, Africa, Australia. I wait for the day when I can visit these places and learn about habitats and birdlife different from my “usual”. I’ve been told Europe’s not exactly a birding hotspot, but perusing the plates of this field guide awakens my curiosity. The salmon-bellied Bullfinch, the petite baby-faced Robin, bee-eaters splashed in blue and green. Yes: I want to visit Europe, too.
This field guide is set up similarly to the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, with text on the left page and plates on the right. Lines are drawn directly on the plates to point out key features of each bird: a red throat, a blue shoulder patch. Range maps are arranged at the bottom of the left page. The paragraphs of information on each bird are sprinkled with snippets of trivia. For example, the Swedish colloquial name for Pine Grosbeak is “silly fool”, because in the winter Pine Grosbeaks act “quite fearless”. Many of the plates are accompanied by illustrations of the bird in habitat, often demonstrating a commonly observed behavior, such as perched up on a rock or singing on a reed. I would imagine these illustrations are particularly helpful, giving the plates context (after all, we never see a bird as they appear in a plate, perfectly posed on stark white paper 😉
Although useful and interesting, the vast amount of text and information crammed onto each page is overwhelming. The text is small, and some may need to squint to read it. Creating a compact field guide with all the necessary information inevitably calls for a compromise in space. Readers may find themselves digging through the text for the information they want fast. In the field, I bring my Sibley guide so that I can whip it out and quickly check a field mark or vocalization. Birds of Europe is the kind of book I would leave at home and check later.
It’s hard to beat North America’s concise Sibley guide, but Lars Svensson’s lengthy descriptions have their plus side, too. The thorough notes on nesting behavior, song, and habitat preferences are captivating. I highly recommend this book, whether you plan to visit Europe or just enjoy perusing through field guides of the world.