Eastman Guide to the Birds, The Natural History Accounts for 150 North American Species

by John Eastman. Illustrated by Amelia Hansen

I cannot remember exactly when I discovered John Eastman’s books on birds. He has written three, if you don’t count Enjoying Birds in Michigan which he edited. Birds of Forest, Yard, and Thicket came first in 1997. A copy was probably sitting on the shelf in the Audubon Bookshop. The title caught my eye and browsing through the pages I realized I had to have it.

Rather than being just another field guide, Eastman’s book covered all facets of each species contained within. While the descriptions in other guides were getting shorter and shorter, here was a lot of interesting information written in a friendly prose style. After a detailed description of the species, sections would follow on Close Relatives, Behaviors, Ecology, and Focus. The latter is my favorite. As Eastman himself admits, it is a kind of catchall section that contains information that didn’t exactly fit in one of the other sections.

For instance, Henry David Thoreau failed to distinguish the song of the Hermit Thrush from that of the Wood Thrush. Or, did you know that the first bird Alexander Wilson shot after getting off the boat in America was a Red-headed Woodpecker? I’ll bet no one ever told you that the name junco comes from the Latin juncus meaning “rush’ resulting from early ornithologists mistakenly referring to the bird’s supposed marshland habitat. I could go on and on.

The line drawings by Amelia Hansen were included not so much to help identify the birds as to illustrate aspects of their behavior, anatomy, habitat, food source, etc. They are very fine indeed and add a lot.

Following the success of Birds of Forest, Yard, and Thicket, the author and illustrator team went on to create Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh in 1999 and Birds of Field and Shore in 2000. All were published by Stackpole Books. I bought all of them. One of the problems I have had over the years, however, is deciding which book will have the species I want more information on. Technically, there could be some overlap, especially between birds of the shore and birds of the lake, pond, or marsh. Invariably, I grab the wrong one off the shelf.

A recent event, however, has changed all that. Stackpole has published all three volumes as a Kindle Book. The title is Eastman Guide to the Birds. In it are the almost 150 species that were in the original books. (Northern Harrier at least appeared in two of the volumes.) Hansen’s delightful illustrations have been faithfully reproduced and appear sharp even on my less than “top of the line” Kindle model. Also to recommend it is the price. $9.99 for three books is a great deal.

The only thing to be said negatively about the new edition is that the publishers did not take a little more time to create an index (or table of contents) that would cover all three volumes. This means that readers still have to look in the back (or front) of each book to find what is in it. Still, this is easier to do electronically than by  turning pages.

Our own Rick Blom, when writing about Eastman’s books said “The amount of detail is impressive…presented in a readable, easy to follow narrative.” I refer to them frequently and use the information found therein when preparing the Species Profile for this newsletter. If you own a Kindle or can read Kindle books on your electronic device, this is a good time to learn for yourself what a great read the Eastman Guide to Birds can be.

Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Ornithological Society

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