A big, beautiful bird book

“The Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds)” came across my desk this week. It’s a big, beautiful book, 529 pages long and heavier than my “Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.”
The book, which came out this year and was published by Crossley books and Princeton University Press, was written by Richard Crossley, a native of Great Britain who lives in Cape May, N.J.
The book’s emphasis is pictures, and it was made possible by the magic of digital photography. Most of the more than 600 birds are shown in a variety of poses on a single plate, from close up to off flying in the distance.
Here’s what I like and don’t like about “The Crossley ID Guide”:
* The pictures are gorgeous. If you buy this book, I predict that you will spend a lot of time just gazing at the pictures and enjoying them.
* I especially like the inclusion of the far-away images. Even I can eventually identify most birds if they’re up close. I need all the help I can get with those far-away views, which seem to be more common.
* Crossley’s descriptions of birds are short and lively.
* Because it’s so heavy, you aren’t going to take it in your pack. It would be fine to keep around your favorite bird-watching spot at home, and perhaps to take along in the car.
* Crossley uses alpha codes for birds; a red-breasted nuthatch is a RBNU, a mourning dove is a MODO. He gives the common and scientific name of each bird on the page where it’s presented, but every other reference is to the alpha code. In his description of the yellow-throated warbler, for example, he says it is “often creeping around limbs like BAWW,” and later compares its singing to “CARW qualities.” Unless you happen to know, you have to flip through the pages to figure out that a BAWW is a black-and-white warbler, and a CARW is a Carolina wren.
Is it worth the list price of $35? Well, if you don’t already have some kind of bird guide, I would start with a basic field guide you can easily take anywhere, such as the “Sibley Field Guide to Birds.” If you do already have something like that, you might enjoy this as a supplement. It’s sure fun to look at.

On another topic, a sign of spring: On Monday, I saw my first chipmunk of the year foraging for bird food on the deck.

Your bird pictures and stories welcome at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

7 thoughts on “A big, beautiful bird book

  1. I think my husband would love this book–do you think it would be useful for the Moorhead area? Or does “Eastern” mean more Eastern that that?

    • Moorhead is definitely “Eastern” by Crossley’s definition. His “Eastern” runs all the way to the western border of the Dakotas. I think that’s typical of many bird guides. The “Western” area as seen is running from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast; everything east of that is “Eastern.”

  2. You can print out a lists of all the alpha codes at these two websites:


    but be warned – they are 30 pages or so!

    In general the alpha codes are pretty easy to figure out if you know the rules. If the bird has a one-word name, the code is the first 4 letters. (Ovenbird = OVEN). If the bird has a two-word name, the code is the first two letters from each word. (Northern Cardinal = NOCA). If it’s a three-word name, the code is usually 1 letter, 1 letter, and 2 letters. (Clay Colored Sparrow = CCSP). If it’s a four-word name, 1 letter comes from each word. (Black Throated Blue Warbler = BTBW).

    There are exceptions – for example, CARW is a Carolina Wren because CAWR (which is what you might expect) could also be used for Cactus Wren and Canyon Wren. So, if two birds could share a code, then neither one gets it. The other place you might get in trouble is that we don’t always call a bird by its “official” name. For example, in the east, the Tufted Titmouse has the code ETTI. Why? Because it’s officially the Eastern Tufted Titmouse, and is now considered a distinct species from the Black-crested Titmouse.

    • Thanks, that is helpful.
      I can see how the alpha codes would be useful in recording notes in the field, and I think it’s good that the book lets the reader know what the alpha codes are. But I still dislike the use of alpha codes INSTEAD of the familiar names within the text. I would never look outside my window and say: “Hey! There’s a NOCA!”

      • Hee hee . . . my daughter and I do it all the time! But I totally understand how it can break the flow when you are reading. I can see why they might not want to use the “common” name (since those sometimes differ from place to place), but they could use the “official” name.

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