Bird – the ultimate illustrated guide to the birds of Britain and Europe

Authors Peter Hayman and Rob Hume. Mitchell Beazley HB, ISBN 978 1 84533 338 6. Includes CD for MP3 or iPod

This book will be popular as a reference work for people who want everything in one place – identification, photos, maps and basic information.

Illustrated throughout with Hayman’s distinctive artwork, the book describes the full range of European breeding species but excludes most vagrants. The exception is Ring-billed Gull, although I would also have included Pectoral Sandpiper and Ring-necked Duck.

Each species is depicted on the ground or perched and in flight (often, but not always, from below). Adult and immature plumages are shown in most cases – especially with the non-passerines – and a photograph accompanies every species. There is also close-up detail on tail patterns where this aids identification. Closely-related similar species are briefly mentioned with a small comparison sketch.

A map showing European distribution is included together with a circle (a bit like a clock face) to show which months you can expect to see each bird. Both are coloured to indicate to which family the bird belongs. For me this added a level of unnecessary detail which prevented the maps from showing when a species was in summer or winter range.

I have several concerns with the maps, which are a missed opportunity. For example these clearly show Hooded Crow being present throughout the eastern side of England, while Raven (which now is spreading across the south-east) is shown only west of Dorset. Perhaps my expectations on such things are high, but given the care that has been taken to show detailed identification points, I would have hoped a bit more time had been spent on the maps. If you are new to birding you’ll be thrown by such things.

In summary I do think this will be a popular book and at £25 it represents great value for money, particularly with so much data being available as images and notes for your iPod. Recordings of 250 species are included and when you consider the cost of buying these separately the value of this book becomes even greater.