I know they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but when I first opened the box and saw Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives (Second Edition), my initial reaction was wow. The shiny black cover with the stunning Indian Pitta makes this one of the most attractive field guide covers I have seen. As I began to flip through the 528 pages, I realized that my initial reaction was not far off. The 226 plates depict 1,375 species that occur in this subcontinental region with wonderful illustrations.
Each two-page spread contains information on 3 to 7 species and includes excellent illustrations, range maps, and detailed information on field marks, habitat, behaviors, and voice for each species. The illustrations are truly stunning. The artists have perfectly captured the posture, behavior, and field marks of these birds. While some field guides make the birds look cartoon-like or unreal, the illustrations in Birds of India stand out as being very good representations of the actual wild birds.
Throughout the book, I did notice a few places where the illustrations seemed a little dark or too light. For example, on the pages depicting the swifts, the images are all a bit fuzzy, which can be distracting when looking for identifying characteristics. Nevertheless, the majority of the plates in this book are outstanding. The range maps for every species are incredibly detailed with numerous colors and markings. Too many perhaps. The key at the beginning of the book shows 17 different colors and symbols used on the range maps, which is way more than I am used to in any guide I commonly use. I was forced to keep flipping back to this page due to the complexity of the maps. Even though they are a bit complex, if you are willing to learn what the colors and symbols represent, these maps become excellent resources for understanding occurrence and movement of the birds of India.
Even with a few distractions and flaws in this book, this guide ranks among the best bird field guides I have ever seen. The size (5.5 inches x 8.5 inches) is small enough to carry around in a backpack without taking up too much space. The wonderful illustrations and text are added bonuses, making this guide easy to use and generally exciting to read. If I were to take a trip to India, this would be the field guide that I would use. If you are going to be watching birds on the Indian subcontinent or even if you just enjoy excellent field guides, I strongly recommend adding Birds of India to your library.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Princeton University Press.