Unlike the Sibley Guide to Birds (reviewed here) or the National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (also reviewed here), the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior is anything but a field guide. This book was once described to me as the kind of thing that you’d read in front of a fire at night after a day of birding. While I think that’s maybe a bit too extreme for me, it is a very good reference.
Is this really for Photographers?
This isn’t a photography book, it’s not even a field guide, so the question is, is this even useful for photographers? In short, yes, if you’re a serious bird photographer it’s one of the most accessible ways to better understand your subjects.
Most importantly, understanding your subject better can result in better images with less wasted time and effort. For example, if you’re following a developing nest and don’t know the species incubation times you could end up having to check daily to see if chicks hatched. That intermediate time can probably be better used searching for new subjects or working on projects for other clients.
Secondly, there’s trying to capture the peak of action. Many birds display distinctive behaviors while, often these behaviors are great poses themselves, but also they can be key indicators that the peak action moment eminent. Examples of this are the characteristic “stall” Osprey make before diving on a fish. While most of these behaviors can be recognized after enough time in the field, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior can give you a wing up.
Organization and Content
The first 120 pages are dedicated to an overview level discussion of birds, bird biology, and common bird behaviors. Sibley does a very thorough job of introducing these topics in an way that’s accessible to someone who’s not a biologist.
The second part of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior rest of the book is organized by order (i.e. Pelicans, Eagles, Hawks, etc.). It contains details on 81 (if my count is right) different orders of birds, with each detailed section frequently having more specific details on individual species. The order specific sections are organized similarly to the order of species in The Sibley Guide to Birds, though there are some variations.
The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior is a desk reference. It’s not going to help you identify birds any better, though if you’re seriously into bird photography I’d rank it as the 2nd or 3rd book to buy, right after you get your field guides. While it’s not something I’d read to relax, it is the first places I look when I start researching new species or when I want to play out photographing a familiar species. That said, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior isn’t a substitute for field time.