Special features

A valuable new ID guide from a founder of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network

We publish roundups of new books about birds two times a year, in our June and December issues. For our December 2015 issue, we wrote about 18 titles, including the book featured here. Scroll down for links to our other reviews from the issue.
By Matt Mendenhall | Published: 10/19/2015

NA-Hummingbirds_300x483During a fallout of songbirds or a particularly busy day at a hawk watch, the identification skills of even the most seasoned birders can be taxed. The same can be said about hummingbird feeding stations, especially in the Southwest, where many species occur.

The constant blur of wings and color is at once thrilling and overwhelming. Males may be easy to pick out, thanks to their bright gorgets and crowns, but distinguishing females and juveniles is often much more difficult.

This new guide is designed to help birders and banders “more easily and accurately identify, age, and sex” hummingbirds in North America north of Mexico. It’s by George C. West, a professor emeritus of zoophysiology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the author of A Birder’s Guide to Alaska (American Birding Association, 2008). West is also a co-author of the question-and-answer guide Do Hummingbirds Hum? (Rutgers University Press, 2010), and he’s a co-founder of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, which operates about 30 banding sites from British Columbia to central Mexico.

The book covers all 17 species regularly found in the United States and Canada, separating them into sections on large, medium-sized, and small hummingbirds. And it includes eight accidental species, which do not occur regularly at any location or time of year, such as Green-breasted Mango and Xantus’s Hummingbird.

For the accidental species, West includes illustrations and descriptive text but only a few photos. For each of the primary species, he provides a wealth of useful information: illustrations of dorsal and ventral views of hummingbirds of various ages and sexes; up-close photos of tails; carefully chosen pictures that show important field marks; descriptive text about adult male and female and juvenile male and female plumages; and notes about similar species, distribution, migration, and more — all of which make the book a valuable resource for anyone trying to keep tabs on visitors at a feeding station.

North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide, by George C. West, University of New Mexico Press, 256 pages, paperback, $24.95

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