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Updated 14 June 2021
Birds of Central America Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (Vallely and Dyer). Princeton University Press 2018. Hooray, a brand-new book to largely replace the old (1995) classic, the next book shown below. And this new book also covers a wider area – the whole of Central America except for Mexico (unfortunately). We definitely recommend the soft cover version, as it is more practical, not to mention really well-priced for a work of this magnitude. We’re pleased to say this book is in properly modern style, with range maps, plates, and text all together. The book is not perfect, but the problems are very minor in comparison to the advantages of this book. An example of an imperfection, though, is that the paintings are a bit washed out (which severely underplays this region, as many of the birds are far more spectacular-looking and brightly-colored in real life than this book shows). And the index is not perfect (e.g. Collared-Dove, Eurasian instead of Dove, Eurasian Collared-). We recommend this book for Central American countries for which we don’t recommend a country-specific field guide if you scroll further down this blog (e.g. Costa Rica and Panama have their own field guides which we suggest if you’re only visiting one of those nations).
A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and northern Central America (Howell and Webb), 1995. Covering the northern Central American region of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador. This book is such a classic and has such informative, detailed text that we’ve left it in here, despite the fact that the above book now largely replaces it (except for Mexico). For Mexico, we’ve ordered a Princeton Illustrated Checklist for review, so we might recommend that as “our book for Mexico” – watch this space.
The Birds of Costa Rica (Garrigues and Dean). Second edition (2014) now available! This is the most recent guide to the country, and it is good. There are quality illustrations and range maps. Although there are a few omissions, this is overall the best field guide to the country.
The Birds of Panama (Angehr and Dean). Many of the same illustrations are used as in the book above, with a similar range map style and text. We definitely recommend this as the best book for Panama.
Birds of the West Indies (Kirwan, Levesque, Oberle and Sharpe). This field guide is in our opinion the most comprehensive field guide to West Indian birdlife to date. It covers the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Lesser Antilles. The illustrations are excellent and, despite coming from a number of artists, they fit together seamlessly. Unusually the range maps are included on the plates, but this works well. There is a QR code for each species that links to the Internet Bird Collection database, allowing you to access a greater array of photographs, videos, and sounds. All in all we are very impressed with this guide and would recommend it as the go-to guide when visiting any of the West Indies.
Birds of the West Indies (Raffaele et al.). The second edition (2020) of this finely-illustrated field guide to the entire Caribbean is excellent and covers all the species within the region. Not all are illustrated with range maps, though (when they are endemic to one particular island), but as a whole this is a very useful guide with good descriptions. This field guide covers Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and all the islands of the Lesser Antilles.
Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba (Garrido and Kirkconnell). This is the only guide covering this endemic-laden island. It’s a medium-quality field guide but virtually a “must-buy” if visiting Cuba (although the previous book can also work).
Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti (Latta et al.). This is an excellent guide, covering all the species of the island of Hispaniola. All the plates are together, with following species accounts, which include range maps.
Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad & Tobago (Kenefick, Restall and Hayes). This is the best field guide to these islands, covering all birds occurring there. It contains clear, concise descriptions and particularly helpful ‘similar species’ information and plumage variations, but no range maps.
Birds of South America Non-Passerines (Erize, Mata and Rumboll). This guide covers the entire continent’s non-passerine birds. It is essentially an illustrated checklist, but the artwork is very good. Each species is described with several plumages, some vocal notes, and a range map. Though not very detailed, it does cover nearly 1300 species, and together with the Ridgely and Tudor Songbirds of South America you have coverage of over 3000 species! Thus, together with the volume below you’ll be able to cover all the species of South America, especially where other guides either fail to include the entire range or not do so very well.
Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America (Ridgely and Tudor). This field guide covers over 2,000 passerine birds in South America, with over 1500 excellent illustrations by Guy Tudor. The volume contains updated range maps and illustrations. Paired with the above guide you have coverage of all the species in South America in two portable field guides.
However, since there are more than 3000 species on this spectacularly bird-rich continent, we certainly recommend one of the country/region-specific books below in order to be less overwhelmed!
Birds of Northern South America (Restall, Rodner and Lentino). This two-volume set covers Colombia, Ecuador, Northern Peru, Northern Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, and French Guyana. A huge 2308 species are covered in this guide, which describes 22% of the world’s species! Very good illustrations and the accompanying text cover many subspecies as well as differing plumages. The “problem” with birding trips to South America is that one does get overwhelmed by the sheer number of bird species!
A Guide to the Birds of Colombia (Brown and Hilty). Though this guide is a bit dated now and has black and white plates for certain groups (!), the information, range maps, and artwork are still some of the best for this country. It is a bit heavy for a field guide (in fact, some birders have been known to tear out the plates and take just them into the field, leaving the rest in the vehicle!). But when you are talking about 1800+ species (the highest bird species count for any country on earth, higher even than Peru), one either has to cut back on information and artwork size or produce a heavier book. We think the heavier book with more information is the way to go! Eduardo, the head of our South American office (who guides a lot of our bird tours to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, etc.) points out that this book is actually the original book for ornithologists and birders studying neo-tropical birds as a whole – it’s one of the pioneering South American birding classics. Of course, two decades ago we did not have field guides available for many South American countries, despite it being the richest continent for birds on the planet, meaning the Colombia book was the only one available. The artist, Guy Tudor, is one of the best bird illustrators out there.
Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia (McMullen and Donegan). This, the new Colombia book, has many positives, including updated text, up-to-date distribution maps, text together with the illustrations, and a more compact size. Some of the illustrations are not the best, but neither is it good to have black-and-white paintings as per the classic (previous) guide.
Birds of Ecuador (Freile and Restall). This recently released field guide is a great companion to a birding trip to this small but incredibly species-rich country. It draws on the latest taxonomical research, thus improving on its slightly outdated predecessor. The guide is bulky, however; when covering Ecuador in one volume it is difficult to condense things! The plates are arranged opposite to the distribution maps alongside the text, allowing for ease of use. The illustrations are detailed; however, some are not entirely lifelike.
The Birds of Ecuador, Field Guide (Ridgely and Greenfield). This is another hefty field guide, but again, dealing with 1600+ species isn’t an easy task. There is a second volume, which provides more detailed information about each species, but the field guide is all you’ll need if you join a birding tour to Ecuador. The artwork is good, though all the plates are in the center of the book, à la old-school field guides. The text is very informative, and the range maps are very good. This book seriously needs an update, though (it was published in 2000).
Birds of Peru, revised and updated edition (Schulenberg et al.). This is the most complete and up-to-date guide to the birds of Peru. Considering it covers over 1800 species, this book is still easily portable. The artwork isn’t too crammed and is very good, but not particularly crisp. The range maps are of reasonable size and show each region of Peru, and the text is concise but not very detailed, given the small amount of space available. Any larger, though, and this volume would require a Sherpa because of the sheer volume of information that could be included, so it presents an admirable effort to keep it compact while still comprehensively covering the country.
Birds of Venezuela (Hilty). This most complete and authoritative work has excellent plates, thorough information, and good range maps. It is also arguably the best guide for Guyana, which does not have its own guide (although the Birds of Northern South America shown above also works well).
A Field Guide to the Birds of Brazil (van Perlo). This is the most current and complete guide to the species of Brazil. It’s a medium-caliber guide; Brazil, strangely, has never had an absolutely top-class guide, but this one suffices. Until this recent book was published, the bird field guide situation in Brazil was really bad.
Birds of Brazil – The Pantanal & Cerrado of Central Brazil (Gwynne, Ridgely, et al.). This must be the best guide if you’re doing a birding trip just to these parts of this massive country.
Birds of Argentina and the South-west Atlantic (Pearman and Areta). It’s great to now (since the above book was published in 2020) have a modern-style, very good, field guide for Argentina. Conveniently, this book also covers the Falkland Islands. The illustrations are good and are on the same page as the text and maps, which are also good. This book also has some excellently useful pieces on tricky species identification (prions and pipits), sonograms of some species where the calls/songs are key (e.g. pipits, crakes, etc.), an illustrated list of plants of the region covered, and a great article on the major habitats such as inter-Andean valleys, Yungas, Chaco, etc.
Birds of Chile (Jaramillo). Excellent artwork, range maps, and descriptions make this book a must for Chile.
Birds of Chile (Jaramillo, Burke and Beadle). This is a great guide for the birds of Chile and also covers the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. However, we would suggest the Couve and Vidal guide below if visiting the Falklands or South Georgia. The illustrations are good with the text and distribution maps opposite; making it a nice, easy guide to use, and it’s relatively light weight will ensure that you can travel easily with it.
Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica (La Pena and Rumboll). The classic book for the southern parts of this bird-rich continent.
Birds of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego & Antarctic Peninsula (Couve and Vidal). A useful photographic guide to take with you on a trip to the most southerly parts of South America. The photographs are good, with many used for each species, although some of the pelagic species’ photographs could be improved! The species accounts are detailed, and the maps are well done.