The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior; Edited by Chris Elphick, John B Dunning, Jr, and David Allen Sibley; Illustrated by David Allen Sibley; Alfred A Knopf, NY (2001) List Price: $45.00

19th century ornithology focused on determining speciation by studying specimens.  Belatedly, scientists realized the value of studying living birds. In 1934, Peterson’s first  field guide was published, and birding without a shotgun became realistic. Eventually, birders realized there is more to birding than simply identifying species. Thus, have we come full circle.

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior is the collaborative effort of 48 authors, including the editors, and (at the risk of stating the obvious) is wonderfully illustrated by Sibley. The first 106 pages offer a readable, non-technical introduction to ornithology. The next 444 pages explore the families of ABA birds (but not the species). One or more people especially knowledgeable with the subject or family write each section. These are followed by a glossary and brief biographies of the authors. Unlike the paintings in Sibley’s identification guide, his almost 800 illustrations in this book emphasize behavior, not field marks.

The purpose of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior is to help us better understand the way birds behave, which it does by presenting a wealth of scientific information in well illustrated, plain language. (Updates and errata are available at Because it uses multiple authors, different interpretations are given. Some may consider this undesirable, but I believe it helps identify issues needing further investigation. This book also emphasizes conservation. As birders, we are often more aware than most of the dangers to life on Earth because birding focuses our attention upon the interplay among the elements constituting the web upon which life depends.

The one complaint I have is the title. Apparently the publisher wanted to market this book by emphasizes Sibley, probably because of the justifiable success of his field guide. However, naming this work The Sibley Guide... is to imply that Sibley wrote the book. This is both misleading and short-changes the other fine authors who contributed to it.

Be that as it may, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior offers a wealth of information ably illustrated by an outstanding wildlife artist.

Mike Hannisian