Nothing could be more important than encouraging young people to become interested in and knowledgable about birds. The next generation will be in charge of protecting our world's avian treasures.
The Young Birder's Guide to Birds, of eastern North America, by Bill Thompson III, is a wonderful tool to help accomplish this. Written for 8-12 year olds, Bill spent lots of time with his daughter Phoebe's (great name, same as our Corgi) 4th through 6th grades classes listening to kids talk about what should be in this field guide. Hence it's success.
There's so much in this guide to keep a young person engaged. The book covers 200 of the most common and intriguing eastern birds, just enough to cover much of what kids will see without being overwhelmed by too many species. There are 1-2 lovely color photographs per bird. The kid-friendly species accounts tell what to "Look for, Listen for, and Remember." For example, the Brant species account says:
"Look for: Almost everything about this small, short-necked goose is dark: head, bill, body, wings, legs. The overall dark head and body contrast with a white lower belly and upper tail, giving flying birds a dark-in-front, white-in-back appearance. If you can get close to a Brant, look for a partial white necklace.
Listen for: A low, rolling honk that sounds like a goat or sheep.
Remember: The Brant lacks the bright white cheek patch of the Canada Goose. Brant are also much smaller and shorter necked than Canada Geese."
On each page, there's a wonderful, black-and-white line drawing by Bill's talented wife, artist Julie Zickefoose. The drawings make the bird come alive by showing it doing interesting behaviors such as feeding, flying, diving or displaying. We have long been advocates of having people see the whole bird, as intriguing creatures with complex lives and fascinating behaviors, not just as a bunch of feathers with a name. This book goes a long way to get kids off to the right start.
The "Find it" section at the bottom of each page describes the bird's habitat and a nice, large range map shows where the bird can be found at what time of year. Nice touch— there's a little box at the bottom of each page that kids can check-off when and where they have seen a bird for the first time, thus beginning their "life-list."
Engaging for kids, and one of our favorite parts of the book, is the "Wow" circle with a fun fact for each species. For example:
"Wow! Migrating Brant may fly nonstop from their high-Artic breeding grounds to the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of more than 1,800 miles."
In addition to the species accounts, other information sections such as "Identification Basics, Field Skills, Birding Manners," written in a just-right-for-kids style, cover all the basics of birding.
So kudos to Bill, Phoebe and her classmates for creating a first rate guide that will inspire kids to get out from behind their computers and video games and into the real world filled with fascinating, beautiful and awe-inspiring birds. Our rating, four (out of a possible four) wings up to you!