Birds of Prey of the East: a field guide

Published on 17 January 2019 in Book reviews

By Brian K. Wheeler

Princeton University Press, 2018; pbk, 304pp; 72 colour plates; ISBN 978-0-691-11706-5

£22.00 buy it from the BB Bookshop

Birds of Prey of the West: a field guide

By Brian K. Wheeler

Princeton University Press, 2018; pbk, 360pp; 85 colour plates; ISBN 978-0-691-11718-

£22.00 buy it from the BB Bookshop

In total, these two volumes deal with the 34 bird of prey species that occur in North America (excluding Hawaii). The West and East guides handle 33 and 27 species respectively, with Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis being the only species unique to the eastern guide. Those familiar with Brian Wheeler’s previous photo guides to raptors (published by Princeton in 2007) will know of his interest in the many plumage variations of species such as Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis, so it comes as no surprise that there are 14 plates in each book dedicated just to this species. Many other plumage variations are discussed for other species too, which is a reminder of how raptors vary across a continent. Clearly there are plumages unique to the west and east, and if you were visiting just one half of North America you’d choose the book dedicated to that half. If, however, you only had space for one book, I’d suggest buying the West guide, as it includes almost every plate that the East guide offers, plus a few more. But you would miss out on the large distribution maps for the eastern half of the continent. 

Wheeler’s illustrations are sharp, and the layout is well designed to present the birds in the same format throughout, facing or flying left, and clearly labelled with plenty of captions. The main focus of the book is identification, but there are also notes on habitat choice, status, nesting and movements. Introductory chapters discuss how to use the book and there is an extensive section on moult sequences. There are relatively few photographs in each volume – and those that are included mostly depict habitats.

Keith Betton