While on a birding tour in Peru, every seat of our vehicle had a copy of Birds of Peru either on or under it. It’s not a surprise that every birder had their own copy handy; this is simply the best field guide for this bird-rich country.
The guide follows the standard format of illustrations on the right-hand page with text and maps on the left. The illustrations, paintings provided by several artists, are labeled with the species name, along with the sex, age, and subspecies name where appropriate. They are attractive and, given the number of artists, fairly consistent. Thankfully, the plates haven’t been crammed full of tiny birds, like some neotropical guides. On average, there are about six birds per plate, and the illustration sizes are about right.
I can’t tell you how glad I am that the illustrations are labelled with the species name, as opposed to numbered. It just makes the guide so much easier to use. The only thing I could wish for the plates would be annotated arrows pointing to field marks, a la the Sibley and Collins guides. It appears that there is actually enough room for them on these plates.
The maps are all lined up on the far left-hand side. Like the plates, they are very well done. They include the three features that all range maps should have:
- Different colors (in this case: permanent, breeding, boreal migrant, austral migrant, and overlaps between the two migrant types and resident birds)
- Political boundaries and major rivers
- Zoomed in to show smaller ranges more clearly
There is not enough room for extensive species accounts. Thus, the text focuses on that which will assist in field identification. Still, the authors were able to include a good bit of information, including:
- Length – in centimeters and inches (bravo!); wingspan where appropriate
- Geographic Variation – an * next to the name indicates that there are two or more subspecies (across the entire range)
- Relative Abundance – common, uncommon, etc
- Elevational Distribution – critical for many identifications in this region
- Regional Distribution – indicates the countries surrounding Peru where the species is also present, or if it is a Peruvian endemic
Subspecies identification and distribution are critical in the neotropics, where many of them are likely to be elevated to full species eventually. Birds of Peru does a decent job illustrating and discussing field-identifiable subspecies that occur within the country. The text mentions the traits that differentiate the subspecies and tells where each can be found.
The introduction is more extensive than that of many field guides. It includes the expected sections on how to use the book and bird topography (diagrams pointing out the parts of a bird). But it also has primers on the topography and habitats of Peru, molt, and conservation. If you’re planning a trip to Peru, it would be a good idea to read the introduction thoroughly.
Even though Birds of Peru includes a whopping 1,817 species, it’s still a field guide that can be used in the field. You’re not going to be able to carry it in a pant pocket (unless you have some heavy-duty cargo pants), but it would fit a small bag or vest pocket. It isn’t light, though, so I would encourage you to leave it in the car, if possible, especially if on a guided tour.
I used Birds of Peru extensively while in Peru, and there were very few instances where I couldn’t work out an identification with it. It’s one of the best field guides around; if you have any interest in Neotropical birds or, especially, plan on birding Peru it is indispensable.
Birds of Peru: Revised and Updated Edition
by Thomas S. Schulenberg, Douglas F. Stotz, Daniel F. Lane, John P. O’Neill, and Theodore A. Parker III
Paperback; 664 pages
Princeton University Press; May, 2010
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