Best Birding Books

Here's The Best for Beginners, Kids and Advanced Birders

By Richard Worden

Birders of all ages and skill levels often rely on field guides and birding books to help identify the species of bird they have just observed. With so many to choose from, how do you know which are the best birding books?

The best birding book is National Geographic: Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition. It is vetted by specialists to ensure the accuracy of the information and features some of the most detailed illustrations available in field guides.

The rest of this article looks at the best birding books separated by books recommended for the typical birder, the beginner, and the kids. Let’s have a look!

Recommended Books About Birding

Best Overall: National Geographic: Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition

nat geo field guide to birds

This field guide (available on Amazon) is fully vetted by specialists in the birding field to guarantee birders only get the best information available. It also features a taxonomy that follows the guidelines of the American Ornithological Society taxonomy. Birders will easily find all the information they need to identify North American bird species, learning in-depth information about each one.


  • Excellent illustrations: Nothing works better to help identify a bird than having detailed images to compare the real thing. Each picture is hand-painted by a leading member of the nature artist community to bring high-quality images to birders everywhere.
  • Covers many species and sub-species: This field guide covers 1,023 species in depth, providing birders with information to identify the various birds they come into contact with. In addition, it also covers many sub-species to fully round out the subject matter.  


  • Artwork is not done by one artist: Because the artwork is not completed by one artist, it is inconsistent in quality and technique. While it is of excellent quality, this can distract the discerning birder.
  • Large: While it’s jam-packed with information, this field guide is relatively large. It can make carrying awkward, especially for those birders intending to photograph their observations.

Most Illustrated: The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition

sibley bird book

With almost 7,000 paintings of birds, this guide (available on Amazon) offers birders a comprehensive look into many species, earning its place as one of the best birding books. There is in-depth coverage of rare species that birders won’t find in other guides. 


  • Convenient groupings: To help birders more easily identify a specific species, birds that look very similar are grouped together. These sections begin with comparing all the birds, making the comparison straightforward.
  • Rarest sightings included: Some birds may only be seen once or twice and are noted as such. These rare birds are listed to help birders find even the most elusive species to learn more about them.


  • Heavy: Owing to its size, this book is heavy. Weighting over three pounds, it can be inconvenient to carry on hikes or other places while birding.
  • Artwork may be inconsistent: Several customers have complained about the inconsistency in the artwork in this edition. While the paintings have been refinished, the printing of the art is sometimes referred to as too dark or as having an off-tint when compared to the original.

Most Compact: National Geographic: Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America, 2nd Edition

nat geo backyard guide to birds

This book (available on Amazon) is perfect for birders looking for a compact backyard reference guide. It details all of the most commonly seen birds in North American backyards, providing tips and tricks on how to attract them.


  • Informative: This field guide includes a lot of facts about the most commonly sighted backyard birds. You will learn what they sound like, their behaviors, and how to identify them. Also included are comprehensive range maps.
  • Beautiful artwork: The artwork is exquisitely detailed, allowing for perfect identification of all species. Birders can easily pick out distinguishing features from the illustrations to tell the difference between various birds.


  • Limited in scope: With only 150 species, this guide is limited in scope. It is finely detailed in presenting the represented birds, but it could offer more variety. 

Recommended Books About Birding for Beginners

Best for Beginners: Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

kaufman field guide

Offering concise but still descriptive language to explain each bird to readers, this guide (available on Amazon) is a valuable asset for birders, making it one of the best birding books. It also features a helpful organization based on appearance, making comparisons between bird species easy.


  • Excellent verbalizations: It can be challenging for a reader to take words on paper and hear a sound from them. However, Kaufman expertly describes each bird’s call so birders can identify them based on their songs.
  • Color-coded range maps: Like most guides, range maps are included. However, this guide takes it further by color-coding them to make them more efficient in determining where a bird will be at a particular time of year.


  • Illustrations could be better: Several images are too similar to others. Some customers have complained that it is difficult to discern a few species from similar species because the illustrations are nearly indistinct.

Most Versatile: Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, Second Edition

petersen field guide to birds

This book (available on Amazon) is helpful for birders of all levels but is presented simplistically enough to assist beginners on their learning journey. In addition to the mainland of North America, it also features maps of Hawaii. It features brilliant illustrations and range maps.


  • Expansion to Hawaii: Anyone trying to get a complete understanding of the birds of the United States will truly enjoy this field guide as it includes the birds of Hawaii. It is a new addition to this book, as the first edition did not have the state.
  • Lifelike illustrations: While the images are great, they feature another benefit. They are also lifelike. This will give beginner birders more ease with identifying bird species.


  • Small range maps: For birders looking for detailed maps, this book has them, but they’re not what’s expected. The range maps are often relatively small, making them difficult to decipher.

Most Lightweight: Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

stoakes guide to birds

For the ultimate pocket guide, beginners will love this book. It’s small yet packed with information on 100 species of birds, making it the ideal starter book. It includes everything needed to identify and learn about a specific bird, including range maps, tips to attract them, and population trends.


  • Extremely lightweight: At just over six ounces, birders will love carrying this guide everywhere. Its compact size is ideal for nature hikes, never becoming a burden from too much weight.
  • Packed with information: The book is neatly organized by plumage and features extensive information on each bird species. Birders will learn about nesting, eggs, and incubation periods, just to name a few.


  • It is only for the east: The guide is limited in content, as it is geared toward birds of the eastern region of North America. For a complete look at all of the continent, birders will need to buy another volume encompassing the western half.

Recommended Books About Birding for Kids

Most Fun: Beginning Birdwatcher’s Book: With 48 Stickers

beginner bird watching book

This entry-level birding edition (available on Amazon) will entertain kids for hours, allowing them to learn about 48 different North American bird species. It is fully interactive, allowing them to log sightings and add stickers as they progress through the book. 

Through hands-on experiences, young birders will become more familiar with the field, moving on to more advanced levels of exploration.


  • Completely interactive: To garner their interest, this book has kids fully participate in bird-watching activities. Through logging their sightings, they become more experienced with the birding world.
  • Excellent detail: The stickers provide illustrations and are incredibly detailed. Young birders will have a perfect visual to compare their sightings to identify the bird.


  • Limited number of birds: The book only covers 48 birds. While it is an entry-level book, this is a small number of species to maintain the interest of young birders.
  • No scale: While the pictures are expertly detailed, there is no interpretation for scale. Readers cannot judge how large each species is compared to the rest.

Most Straightforward: Backyard Birds 

backyard birds

This book (available on Amazon) provides the best method of bird identification for young birders, showing them all the birds they are likely to find in their own backyards in North America. It is easy to use, with full-color photographs featuring all bird species in their natural habitats for authenticity.


  • Very detailed images: Readers can clearly pick out each bird’s distinguishing features from the clearly drawn images. They can easily match the birds outside the window with those within the book.
  • Easy to understand: This book is on par with younger readers’ skill level at comprehending the subject matter. It expertly explains the topic entertainingly for complete engagement.


  • Lacking some information: While the information provided is very detailed, it is lacking in some areas. There are no measurements or range maps provided for the birds.
  • Not entirely age-appropriate: The checklist in the back of the book leaves some room for improvement. It is too small for the youngest readers who have not wholly developed their skill of writing.

Best Kids Book: National Geographic: Kids Bird Guide of North America, Second Edition

nat geo kids bird book

This is one of the best birding books (available on Amazon) out there and is the top choice for kids. It offers coverage of 150 species, with complete information on 50 birds and 100 mini-profiles of the rest. Illustrations come in the form of full-color photography. Kids will be fully engaged with the birding experience through hands-on activities.


  • Maximum coverage: This book offers more coverage than others geared toward children. With 150 species introduced and 50 in-depth profiles, kids will learn extensive information on birding.
  • Beautiful photography: Unlike most books, this book uses photography instead of illustrations. This allows kids a look at real-life images instead of drawings for better examples of what birds look like.


  • Lacking in less popular birds: While the most popular bird species are covered, those not frequently discussed are not. This will leave kids wondering what some species are with no frame of reference.
  • Requires some background: Despite being directed at kids, this book does require some knowledge of birds to be helpful. For instance, kids will need a basic understanding of where birds live and eat.

Best Birding Books...Conclusion

Birding books help with the identification of specific birds, typically through the use of illustrations and detailed descriptions. They are essential to birders of all ages and skill levels. Choosing the right birding book for your skill level is necessary to get the most out of using it.

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About Me

About the Author...

Richard Worden, a dedicated bird lover for over 20 years, I love to share my in-depth knowledge and passion for birds. Read more About Me and my expertise in this field.

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