Review: Hawks at a Distance by Jerry Liguori

Hawks at a Distance; if you are a hawk-watcher and general hawk-freak (like me), then you too have been waiting for this book to come out ever since rumors of it started to make their way through the birding community. How could a hawk ID book get any better than Liguori’s first book, Hawks from Every Angle we all asked… but he managed to do it again. This new book once again takes North American migrating hawk identification to an entirely new level.

According to the book’s back cover, this second volume contains “19 full-color portraits [and] 558 color photos… portray[ing] shapes and plumages for each species from all angles”. Any guide with that many photos packed into a book that can easily be carried in the field has got to be good; and it sure is!

In the preface of Hawks at a Distance, Liguori explains that his first book was meant to teach how to identify raptors as they are seen in the field and included close-up photographs of plumage details and pointed out characteristics of each raptor’s plumage that are often confused in the field by many hawk-watchers and birders alike. This new guide is strictly for identifying raptors that are truly at a distance. Hawks at a Distance does include a short overview of each species’ structure and flight habits as well as a few notes on plumage details that are critical to know when comparing it to other similar species; all very similar to the overviews in Hawks from Every Angle.  However, the new volume includes the 558 color photos that show each raptor (in each of its plumage types and age types) in photos that are sized in such a way that the birds resemble how they would appear in a pair of binoculars while standing at a hawk watch. This feature of the guide makes it truly ground-breaking and one-of-a-kind.

One feature of the first volume that I know many hawk watchers absolutely loved were the black-and-white images at the end of each chapter showing each species in a handful of poses alongside others of similar shape. I personally referred to these pages on a daily basis while hawk watching and always wished Liguori had included a few more poses. Well as I was having my first look at the new book, I skimmed toward the back and landed my eyes on an upgraded version of these black-and-white photos. 896 images in all! Each species gets and entire page dedicated to itself, showing each species in literally every single angle; head on, slightly head on but off to the right, mostly head on but slightly to the left, mostly head-on but slightly more off to the left, underside in a soar, underside in a glide, flying away to the right, flying away to the left….I think you get the idea. Each species has around 40 angles represented on these pages! Let alone the rest of the book, these 19 pages of the book are an absolute must have for any hawk watcher or raptor enthusiast.

My only criticism for Hawks at a Distance is that on the pages showing the raptors in color photos as if they were life-size through binoculars; the captions for each image are all together in one paragraph at the bottom of each page. Liguori explains in the beginning of the book this was done to avoid cluttering each page, which it does. However, it also makes each page a bit confusing and (especially if in the field trying to ID a quickly approaching bird) is hard to quickly read through to look for the critical identifying characteristics. Perhaps each image could have just had a few words pointing out what to look for in that particular shot.

All-in-all, this book is a must have for any hawk watcher or any birder that wants to learn more about hawk identification. I am in love with the book and haven’t been able to put it down for a few weeks now. I would recommend that you use this book in combination with Jerry Liguori’s first book, Hawks from Every Angle. These two books are, and will be for quite some time, the bibles of hawk watching.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Princeton University Press.