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New reference guide makes identifying birds as simple as recognizing family members

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Birding by Impression_300x432The problem with identifying birds is that we often see them only for an instant, or we see birds that appear superficially similar, that have no outstanding field marks, or that are far away or poorly lit.

The solution, write Kevin Karlson and Dale Rosselet in this exciting new addition to the Peterson Field Guide series, is to stop concentrating on plumage and bare-parts details, at least for the time being, and to begin anew: that is, to start the ID process not with traditional field marks but with an assessment of size, body shape, structural features (the bill, legs, neck, wings, tail, and head), and behavior, and then, if there’s still time, to move on to feather details, general coloration, habitat use, and vocalizations.

The authors have studied not only birds, but how people learn about birds, for years. Karlson is a widely traveled tour leader, an accomplished wildlife photographer, and a coauthor, along with fellow Cape May super-birders Michael O’Brien and Richard Crossley, of the revolutionary The Shorebird Guide (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006). Rosselet is vice president for education for the New Jersey Audubon Society and an experienced environmental educator who oversees the group’s statewide education programs.

Birding by impression, they argue, will free new and casual birders from forever referring to their field guides and result in an intuitive, right-brain kind of species recognition that is “similar to knowing a friend or family member’s shape, movements, and essence at a distance without seeing any details.”

We say, Bring it on, and thank you! We published an excerpt, the chapter about sparrows, in our April 2015 issue.


Peterson Reference Guide to Birding by Impression: A Different Approach to Knowing and Identifying Birds, by Kevin T. Karlson and Dale Rosselet, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pages, hardcover, $30.

Read more reviews from our June 2015 issue

Author Deborah Cramer dives deep into the Red Knot’s complex story in ‘The Narrow Edge.’

New Kaufman guide essential for nature lovers.

A touching memoir from a hummingbird rehabber in Hollywood.


‘Project Puffin’ tells how a kid from Ohio brought puffins back to the coast of central Maine.

Picture book shows what we most want to know about nesting birds.

In new book, Tony Angell presents personal stories and stunning drawings of owls.

‘Feral Cities’ takes account of the wildlife right on our doorstep.


A field guide to five boroughs of feathered New Yorkers.

A new edition of the Costa Rica guide you can carry in the field.

Book tells fascinating history of the feeders, seeds, and suet in our backyards.

A guide to Minnesota’s bird-rich state parks.


Publishers and authors:

If you’ve brought out a book that we should consider reviewing, send it here:

BirdWatching Magazine
Madavor Media, LLC
25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404
Braintree, MA 02184
[email protected]

Originally Published

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Chuck Hagner

Chuck Hagner

Chuck Hagner is the director of Bird City Wisconsin, a program that recognizes municipalities in the Badger State for the conservation and education activities that they undertake to make their communities healthy for birds and people. He was the editor of BirdWatching from 2001 to 2017, and his articles have appeared in Nature Conservancy and Birding. He is also the author of two books about birds and the board chair of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, Inc., located in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Chuck Hagner on social media