David Sibley is most famous for The Sibley Field Guide to Birds. I have a friend who has used his Sibley guide so much that it is now split in two after the pigeons/doves and lacks a binding…must be a pretty good guide! Other familiar books by Sibley include The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior and Sibley’s Birding Basics. Sibley has also recently published a field guide to trees.


1. If you could offer only one piece of advice for young birders, what would it be?

Don't be embarrassed by mistakes, learn from them. Everyone makes mistakes, so you shouldn't feel like you've failed or try to hide or defend the mistake, just try to figure out why it happened. It's often a psychological bias that caused you to leap to a conclusion. There's a tendency to want to cover up, forget, and otherwise ignore mistakes, but you should pay special attention to your mistakes, examine them, try to understand the things that went wrong. Mistakes can be some of the best learning experiences you'll have.


2. Is there a difference in looking at a bird as an artist vs. looking at a bird as a birder?

I've always been both a birder and an artist (or more specifically a scientific illustrator), so for me the two things are inseparable. I guess the big thing I do when I'm really working on drawing a bird is to look more carefully, trying to take in all the shapes and patterns, the curve of the back, the way the pattern fits onto the shape of the bird, etc. In a way I try to take it apart or break it down, so that I can rebuild it in my sketchbook. When I'm birding I look more superficially, just trying to quickly match the patterns and shapes of the bird to templates that I have in my mind, and then attach a name to it.


3. Is there one early memory or experience that turned you into a birder? 

Just going out with my father and his ornithologist friends and co-workers when I was six or seven years old, seeing birds. Learning to band birds when I was eight, being able to hold them and see them up close really gave me a different perspective and solidified my focus on birds. I always liked drawing, and birds were a fun and interesting subject that just got more interesting the more I saw them and learned about them. 

4. What would you be doing if you weren't an artist or an ornithologist?

I honestly have no idea. One of the things I really like about birds (and trees, and other nature study) is getting to know a whole system, how things are inter-related, and I like being outdoors. So I'm pretty sure I would be doing something involving classification of the natural world. It's possible that something else like studying patterns in economics or medicine would also appeal to me, but probably not stamp-collecting.


To be continued….