Know Your Birding Guidebooks

Birds of the Carolinas, by James F. Parnell, Eloise F. Potter, Robert P. Teulings and Ricky Davis

If you’ve lived in North Carolina for any length of time, chances are you know the state isn’t just famous for its barbecue, beaches, and basketball. It’s also a world-class destination for a fourth “B”—birding. North Carolina’s diverse natural communities from mountains to sea nurture an equally diverse array of bird species. Some spend most of the year here, enlivening our backyards (and occasionally pecking irritating holes in our prized tomatoes). Others just pass through on their way up and down the eastern seaboard. All of them inspire amateur naturalists and seasoned birders alike to dust off their binoculars and cast an eye out toward the treeline.

Whether you’re an armchair birder like our friend and author John Yow or the kind of person who schedules spring hikes to track the warbler migrations, sooner or later you’re going to need a good reference book that tells you everything you need to know about the species that can be found in the Carolinas. But when you visit the local bookstore, a birding center, or the internet in search of the right book, you might face some puzzling choices. That’s one of the challenges of living in a state that’s a world-class birding destination—plenty of publishers are eager to offer you a birding book for your shelf of nature guides. So what’s the difference?


There are many options for field guides. These tend to feature larger pictures and information focused on identifying the critter on your feeder. They also tend to be more selective in the number of species listed, focusing on the most common birds in a particular area.

Then you have reference guides. These are more comprehensive, including all the species found in a particular place, and with a greater focus on the birds’ feeding and nesting habits in addition to descriptive information about birds’ appearance and calls. If you want to find a bird’s name in a hurry, chances are you’ll grab the field guide. But if you really want to understand bird life, you need that authoritative reference as well.

UNC Press is proud to be the publisher of Birds of the Carolinas, now in its second edition and still the most complete and authoritative birding reference for North Carolina and South Carolina. Written by four of the state’s most experienced birders and compiled from species accounts by members of the Carolina Bird Club, Birds of the Carolinas covers more than 460 individual species and provides comprehensive physical descriptions, range accounts, and information about feeding and nesting. It’s not the least expensive book on the market, but it is undoubtedly the most complete, and it’s been a trusted resource for birders for years. So if you love birds, and especially if you’re new to the area, accept no substitute: be sure you’ve got a copy on your shelf.

-Mark Simpson-Vos, UNC Press Editor