favorite field guides (from a real field-guide freak!)
WE ARE BLESSED to live in an age when field guides are having a heyday, and I confess to being a passionate consumer of them. I applaud presses like Princeton University and Chicago University, plus publishers of series such as the Peterson, Sibley and Kaufman guides, for investing in these essential works.
Listeners to my weekly public-radio show will know I often interview field-guide authors who help me make sense of the natural world around me (all my nature stories, including those, are here). Links below the last row of book-cover photos on this page will take you to interviews I’ve done with authors of some of the recommended guides.
Disclaimer: Links reached by clicking any of the books or captions are to my Amazon affiliate account, where I earn a commission if you shop.
SPIDERS AND THEIR KIN is a tiny treasure, a little book that will get you understanding and appreciating these incredibly important creatures, and even beginning to ID the major groups. Best $7ish ever spent.
PETERSON GUIDE TO WOODPECKERS: Learn from a longtime conservationist and woodpecker expert why most species are mainly black and white, and how they evolved to withstand all that hammering and much more, plus in-depth species profiles.
COMMON SPIDERS OF NORTH AMERICA: Want to get really serious about spiders? This is the book, richly illustrated and packed with learning: ID hints, native ranges, even behavioral insights into different species.
BETTER BIRDING: Not a field guide, exactly, but a serious guide to how the pros observe birds using contextual cues, from senior staffers of eBird.org and the American Birding Association. Particular focus on groups including raptors; sea, water and shorebirds; birds of the woodland edge; open-country birds, etc. Science-heavy.
COMMON LICHENS is an intimate look at these not-plants, not-animals that are essential to Earth’s health.
TRACKS AND SIGN OF INSECTS by Charley Eiseman demystifies all the lumps and bumps and squiggles and webs you see outdoors and ask, “What’s that?”
GARDEN INSECTS of North America (Princeton): Whitney Cranshaw’s comprehensive, easy-to-use reference is a gardener’s must-have tool.
KAUFMAN FIELD GUIDE TO BUTTERFLIES of North America: Probably the only butterfly book you’ll ever need, plus easy to use.
KAUFMAN GUIDE TO INSECTS, a perfect overall guide to representative insects of every major group, with biology and life histories.
WEEDS OF NORTH AMERICA (Chicago University Press): the continent’s 500 most troublesome plants, identifiable in all their life stages, seed to maturity.
DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES of the West (Princeton University Press), Dennis Paulson’s ode to Western odonates.
TREES OF WESTERN NORTH AMERICA, from Princeton: 630 native and naturalized species, ID’d and profiled.
TREES OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA, from Princeton, with 825 native and naturalized species ID’d and profiled.
THE SIBLEY FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS of Eastern North America is my daily go-to for confirming who’s who out there. By David Sibley.
THE SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRDS, the current master work of North American birds, written and illustrated by David Sibley.
DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES of the East (Princeton Field Guides) by Dennis Paulson, an ode to the Eastern odonates.
PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO MOTHS of Northeastern North America is an eye-opener for anyone who thought only butterflies were interesting.
HAWKS IN FLIGHT by Pete Dunne and colleagues, a look into the world of raptors–their ID, and life histories.
BARK: A FIELD GUIDE to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, teaches ID by bark, and also what bark does and how it evolved.
CATERPILLARS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA by David Wagner of UConn on the caterpillars of about 700 moths and butterflies in the making.
BEETLES OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA by Arthur Evans will help you make sense of the largest group of animals on the planet (true!), in words and detailed photos.
my field-guide author interviews
- Beetles, with Arthur Evans
- Your backyard’s “other” mammals, with Roland Kays
- Tracks and sign of insects (galls, leaf mines and more), from Charley Eiseman
- Native bumblebees, with Leif Richardson
- Eastern spring wildflowers, with Carol Gracie
- Dragonflies and damselflies, with Dennis Paulson
- Moths, with Seabrooke Leckie
- Hawks and other raptors, with Pete Dunne
- Tree bark, with Michael Wojtech
- Eastern and Western U.S. trees with forest ecologist Chris Earle