Review: Birds of Europe (Second Edition)

Alex LamoreauxBooks, Field Guide, Identification, Reviews2 Comments

I recently received a review copy of Birds of Europe (Second Edition) from Princeton University Press Field Guides. Lars Svensson wrote the text and designed the maps for the book, and the illustrations and captions were done by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom. I have never been to Europe, but I reviewed the book as if I were planning on taking a trip there and wanted to use this guide in the field.

Front Cover of Birds of Europe

This second edition has updated taxonomical changes, newly revised maps, new info on how to seperate similar species, and has 10% more pages due to these revisions yet maintains a small, lightweight size. This field guide covers the 713 commonly occuring species in Europe as well as 50 occassional species, 32 escaped/introduced species; all in full detail with multiple color illustraions of each species in all of their various plumages, as well as another 118 rare species which are just listed and not illustrated. The illustrations in this book make it simply stunning. They are clear, bright, and very scientifically accurate. As I mentioned, every possible plumage type of each species is shown. This is an aspect of the book I really enjoyed. When I am out birding I like to narrow down a species to age and sex if possible and most field guides won’t let you do that, since they only show a few of the possible plumages. Many of the plates also show the species in a natural setting – in settings you might typically see that species in the field. For instance, a group of shorebirds huddled together along a sandy beach or an owl hidden in a conifer with a crow species nearby mobbing it.

Since I am sort of obsessed with raptors, that section of the book was the first section I turned to, and I was quite impressed! Each raptor is shown in all of its plumages – male, female, subadult, juvenile, and color morphs if applicable. Each species of raptor is also shown in flight – but thats where it really gets good. Not only are the underside of each raptor shown in flight, but also the upperside for each plumage type! Check out this photo of the Golden Eagle plate to understand what I mean.

Golden Eagle Plate

Another fantastic aspect of this guide is how often the authors included additional plates to assist birders in IDing difficult species, especially at a distance. For instance, this plate below, comparing Great-crested Grebe and Great Cormorant to Red-throated Loon and Great Northern Loon.

Grebe, Loon, Cormorant Comparision

The basic layout of the guide is similar to the Peterson Field Guides. The species’ plates are on on the righthand side and their descriptions and color range maps are on the lefthand side. I have gotten used to the Sibley Field Guide system, with species in a column, and the respective info and maps above or below the species, so I was a little disapointed in this aspect of the guide. There is so much info presented on the lefthand side that finding each species section and range map is a bit confusing. With some time in the field using the guide, I am sure any birder would be able to get used to this setup though.

The species descriptions are very, very detailed and well written. Each description starts off with the species’ measurements, then a short section on what habitats they can be found in, then tips on how to identify the species compare to other similar species, and finally a description of the bird’s voice. Interesting facts are also included in some instances.

Nuthatch Descriptions

The bottom line – this just may be the best field guide ever. The combination of loads of illustrations plus lots of info on each individual species make this a field guide to have. I highly recommend this field guide to any world birder and to any birder who (like me) is always hopeful of stumbling upon a European species out of range here in the US. Also if you just enjoy looking through a beautifully illustrated guide, this one is for you. Below are some more photos I took of two plates I really enjoyed that beautifully capture what this book has to offer.

Long-tailed Duck and Harlequin Duck

Larger Shorebirds

Disclosure- I received a complimentary copy of this field guide from Princeton University Press.

  • Jochen

    Nice review.
    As a European birder who has spent a significant amount of time in North America, I must say that I missed my (first edition) “Birds of Europe” with a passion while birding the Great Lakes. Two very problematic groups, gulls and shorebirds, are treated in much more detail in this guide than in Sibley, and as the American species also turn up more or less regularly as vagrants east of the Atlantic, they are included in the European guide. I would therefore say that Birds of Europe is of significant value even to the “ordinary” East Coast birder who has no immediate plans to travel to Europe, just to help them ID their North American gulls, peeps, auks, terns, tube-noses, etc.
    And regarding the lay-out, the Big Sibley is of course a very attractive book, and one that I absolutely enjoy. however, the specific layout of the big version meant that a lot of blank open space was wasted that could have been filled with extra information. When he split his guide into the Eastern and Western guides, he back-paddled somewhat and chose a compromise between the Big sibley layout and the layout that is found in e.g. the Euro guide, with images right and text/map left: He re-arranged the species on a double-page from four columns to four blocks, but within each block, he arranged the text and map to the left of the images. So when you look at each page (not double-page), you will basically get the “Euro-layout”, with a narrow column of text/maps on the left margin of the page and the illustrations on the right. The difference are then quite marginal, and a birder will usually adapt to the new layout quickly – as you stated.
    Cheers and happy birding trails,
    Jochen

  • Also, anyone with the book should check out this thread on Surfbirds. It has a long list of errors and corrections to the guide which may have been corrected in subsequent printings. http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=162758