Warblers of Eastern North America by Chris Earley is a welcome second edition to Warblers of the Great Lakes Region and Eastern North America, published 20 years ago, and is one book in a whole library of field guides by Firefly Books. While the photos in both editions are very good, the photos in this second edition are a major step up. For instance, the photo opening the introduction in the first edition was a more distant view of a Common Yellowthroat that was uninspiring. In this new edition, there is now a stunning closeup of a Hooded Warbler, and it’s much more impressive.
The introductory section, including subsections “Welcome to the world of warblers,” “How to use this book,” and “Warbler look-alikes,” is well written and helpful, and a lot of information is packed into a small space. The photos in the “Warbler look-alikes” page will likely be particularly helpful to beginning birders. While I am partial to field guides that use paintings to highlight the salient characteristics of a bird species that often cannot all be easily shown in a single photograph, I think one of the best and most helpful features of this guide is the excellent photos of females and other plumage variations including fall and winter months, first fall, and first spring plumage. These capture characteristics that one picture field guides cannot. Earley’s selection of photos illustrates the range of plumages for each species very well.
The other outstanding feature of this warbler guide that will make it a key reference for me and other birders to consult is the completeness of the range maps. The maps include ranges for each of the 37 warbler species detailed in this guide across all of North, Central, and South America. Most field guides, both hard copy and online versions, show only the North American range. Since all warblers are Neotropical migrants, I am particularly grateful that Earley chose to include the complete range for each species. This not only gives the reader more information, but it subtly underscores the reality that we share most of these birds with other countries, which actually provide homes for them for a greater part of the year than we do in the U.S.
The waterthrush, fall warbler, and spring warbler comparison charts at the end of the book, which include both excellent photos and tables highlighting the key characteristics to look for, are very helpful. I think these pages will be the most frequently used of the whole book.
The text for each species is spare, but Earley does pack a lot of information into those well-written narratives. I am glad he included quotes from early ornithologists and some nature notes about each species, but I would have liked a bit more information about the species’ natural history and conservation status. The book is only 131 pages, so I think a few more pages would not have hurt its easy-to-dip-into-and-out-of format.
Songs and calls are critical for mastering most songbird identification and particularly warblers, but songs and calls get short shrift in this book; they are not described well enough to be of much help in identification. I was surprised that in this day and age, there was not a URL provided for a companion YouTube channel or other website with the songs keyed to the pages in the book. While one can access songs through National Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website and Merlin app, if one does that, most of the other information in this book will be there too. Going that route tends to make a guide like this superfluous.
As beautiful and helpful as this book is, for me it does not work well as a field guide. It is too big to fit into a pocket, or even my field guide case that straps around my waist. Though I tend to leave the first edition of this book on my coffee table to refer to before or after spring and fall birding outings, I will bring this edition with me and leave it in the car to consult between stops on my birding trips. I hesitate to carry it around because it is such a beautiful book and I don’t want to get it tattered through use in the field, which tends to happen with my other field guides. If Firefly Books hopes that folks use these beautiful and informative books as field guides, a smaller format with a cover and pages of material meant to withstand field conditions would help.
Despite this, Warblers of Eastern North America is a welcome updated edition to the birder’s field guide library. With beautiful photos, observations from ornithologists across the decades, and range maps that show each species’ wintering grounds, this guide will benefit both new and seasoned birders in their quest to identify as many warbler species as they can while they migrate through or arrive back to their breeding grounds.
Jim Bull holds a Ph.D. in natural resources. He teaches biology and environmental science at two community colleges and serves on the boards of several environmental organizations, including the Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance and Detroit Audubon. In addition to being an avid birder and field trip leader, he is also an ardent photographer, poet, essayist, visual artist, and contra dancer.
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