This is a book review of the book A Field Guide to Warblers of North America, published as part of the Peterson Field Guide series, and authored by Jon L. Dunn and Kimball L. Garrett, and illustrated by Thomas R. Schultz and Cindy House, and with maps by Sue A. Tackett and Larry O. Rosche. This book is often referred to simply as the Peterson Warblers Guide, as the book’s cover simply says “Warblers” in bold print across the top.
The Peterson Field Guide series is best known for the original Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, and related books, although the guide series has since expanded into a myriad of different guides, covering plants, animals, geology, astronomy, and a wide variety of natural subjects. The Warblers guide is one of the most important guides in this series, and I would argue, it is one of the best. However, it is also rather unlike the other guides, and it is not necessarily the best or most accessible book for beginner birdwatchers.
Warblers, in this case, referring to the New World Warblers, family Parulidae, are a specific family of birds, a family rich in biodiversity. Warblers tend to be very small, highly migratory, highly active birds with bright coloration. Because of their small size, migratory nature, and the tendency of many species to forage high in treetops or in hidden locations in dense shrubbery, they offer some of the most tough identification challenges to advanced birders.
The Person Warblers Guide is a highly specialized field guide, delving into considerable depth on each species. It serves two primary purposes: to help aid identification for advanced birders, looking to truly master the art of warbler identification, and to survey the scientific literature surrounding each of these species. It is outstanding on both counts.
The Peterson Warbler Guide for bird identification:
This book features full-color plates of each species, showing not only the distinct plumage of both male and female, but showing distinctions between males and females in different seasons (spring vs. fall) and, in cases where relevant, the distinction between juvenile or first-year birds, and older, more mature birds as well. In addition to the normal plates showing the birds’ full plumage, there is a separate series of drawings illustrating the under-tail patterns of the various species, an essential part of warbler identification.
The illustrations are paired with brief written summaries of which aspects of plumage to look for to aid in identification, but the book does not end there. Each chapter has extensive, paragraphs- or pages-long discussions on identification, including discussion of possible similar species that can be confused, as well as extensive commentary on shape, habitat, behavior, and other often-neglected cues that can be just as important, or sometimes more important, at identifying birds.
Ecology and conservation issues:
The other amazing strength of this guide, and in my opinion, one which is very rare among field guides, is the level of depth into which it delves on the subject of the ecology of each species. This book exhaustively surveys the scientific literature, and includes very modern work as well as a thorough history of older work, on each species. There are extensive sections on the habitat requirements and ecological relationships of each warbler species, and there is also extensive discussion of population health and conservation issues related to each of the warblers.
The book A Field Guide to Warblers of North America, commonly referred to as the Peterson Warblers Guide, is a highly specialized field guide, on the topic of warblers. It is not suitable for beginning birders, but it is an outstanding resource for advanced birders looking to master the topic of warbler identification. It is also an outstanding reference on the topic of ecological and conservation issues relating to the warblers, and would make an invaluable reference book for ornithologists and scientists doing any work related to warblers, or for the curious amateur birdwatcher looking to develop a deeper understanding of these species.