Be Your Own Birder

Europe Field Guides

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No matter where in Europe you may be birding, from the British Isles to the Mediterranean Sea to the Ural Mountains to the Arctic Ocean, there are amazing birds, and you’ll need an amazing field guide to help identify them. I have personally handled, flipped through, scrutinized, and studied each of the guides below, and each one can be a valuable resource for your European birding adventures. Check back often for new and updated guides throughout Europe, or contact me to request guide recommendations or suggest your favorite European bird field guide!

Defining Europe

Europe is a rich, diverse continent filled with centuries of history and culture, different faiths and religions, more than 220 indigenous languages, and a wide variety of habitats that support more than 700 resident and migrant bird species. For field guide purposes, Europe is typically defined as stretching from Iceland and the British Isles through Scandinavia into eastern Russia to the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, then to Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, though some field guides treat the latter countries as the northwestern Middle East. For this directory, if Turkey and its adjacent countries are combined with western Europe, they are treated as European, whereas if they are instead grouped with Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, they will be treated as Middle Eastern guides. Further south, many European guides include the northern coast of Africa within their scope as well, since it is often the southern edge of birds’ European ranges, whereas the Sahara Desert is the large geographical boundary between bird ranges distinctly separating Europe from Africa.

Because of Europe’s tremendous geographic coverage (more than 4 million square miles when including the northern edge of Africa), many field guides cover more limited regions or single countries. Depending on your European birding plans, a smaller, more compact guide may be the best option, or you may prefer a larger, more comprehensive continental field guide. Both options are included here to help you build a fine library for any European birding!

Europe Field Guides

Click on field guide titles or cover images for purchase information through Amazon.com.


Birds of Europe: Second Edition

  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Bird Artwork: Illustrations
  • Pages: 448
  • Portability: Excellent

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: At first glance, Birds of Europe: Second Edition may seem overwhelming in its sheer amount of information, but the quality of that information is irrefutable. Individual bird descriptions are exceptional and include key identification features, behavior, habitat preferences, plumage variations, voice, and more. Many descriptions also compare birds to more familiar species to provide a known reference useful for less experienced birders. Illustrations are delicately drawn to highlight field marks, and critical details are augmented with text tips and pointers. Birds are shown in typical postures, and habitat, gender, immature, and flight illustrations are included where relevant. As a paperback this book can eventually decay with hard use, though the stiff cover can resist minor damage and pages are securely attached to resist loosening. Birds of Europe: Second Edition is an excellent reference without being too large for convenience, and while frequent European birders may prefer more specialized local or regional guides, this book is ideal for any birder’s bookshelf.

  • Best Surprise: Critical identification details listed alongside drawings.
  • What’s Missing: Maps are not immediately adjacent to illustrations.

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland

  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date: 2013
  • Bird Artwork: Composite photographs
  • Pages: 304
  • Portability: Fair

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland combines innovative composite photographs, informative text, and personal insights to provide a real-life approach to bird identification in the United Kingdom. Covering more than 300 species, this book is a field guide as well as an intuitive teaching tool to help both beginning and intermediate birders develop their skills at an instinctive level. The friendly, conversational text is easy to read yet packed with practical information, and the images are similarly informative – multiple birds are shown in each scene, and the different postures, ages, plumages, distances, behaviors, and light levels provide an unparalleled overview of how each bird truly appears in the field. Photos occasionally include other birds for comparison, and the overall scenes are typical British and Irish habitats for enjoyable birding. The guide’s durable construction is somewhat bulky, but it is not so oversized that it is impossible to use. The lack of regularly occurring vagrants can make the guide less practical for twitchers, but The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland is a fine volume for casual and dedicated birders alike.

  • Best Surprise: Conversational text gives useful info with a fun, accessible tone.
  • What’s Missing: Lacks local resources such as a birding hotspot list.

British Birds: A Pocket Guide

  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Bird Artwork: Photographs
  • Pages: 272
  • Portability: Excellent

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: Compact but cram-packed with useful information and detailed imagery, British Birds: A Pocket Guide is a visually stunning volume intended as an introduction to British birding. The book offers step-by-step guidance to identifying birds by leading readers to the proper species account by comparison and generalization, with practical tips for confidently identifying birds by size, shape, color, voice, behavior, habitat, and other traits. The text is written with an encouraging and engaging tone, and is accompanied by plentiful photos, not just of the birds, but of habitats, close-ups of field marks, and different postures where appropriate. A total of 248 species are covered in-depth, with an additional 45 rare migrants or vagrants also addressed for completeness and comparisons. Extra tips and notes are included on the photographs, and the notes of similar birds are especially helpful for cross-referencing different species. Whether birding in Britain for the first time, a regular visitor, or a resident birder, British Birds: A Pocket Guide is an invaluable resource for birders of any experience level.

  • Best Surprise: Group comparisons and silhouettes narrow down identification immediately.
  • What’s Missing: Lacks any checklist option for record-keeping.

Birds of Italy

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Wildlife
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Bird Artwork: Photographs
  • Pages: 144
  • Portability: Excellent

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: The ultimate in portability, this guide is concise and compact, ideal for the traveling birder with little room to spare. Birds of Italy covers 256 of Italy’s most common, most distinctive, and most widespread bird species, and while it is not intended as a completely comprehensive guide to the nation’s birds, it is still a thorough and useful volume. Further resources are recommended for readers and advanced birders interested in additional guides as well. To keep the book compact and informative, birds are shown in crisp, clear photos as they would be seen in Italy – if they only visit the country in winter, for example, only their winter plumage is displayed. The authoritative text highlights key features, songs, calls, habitats, general abundance, and when the bird is likely to be seen in the country. As an added bonus, an English-Italian list of bird names is provided, along with tips for birding in Italy and several useful website recommendations. Birds of Italy is an ideal guide for any birder visiting this richly varied nation, or any Italian resident just getting interested in birds.

  • Best Surprise: Includes a map of Italy’s best, most accessible birding sites.
  • What’s Missing: No similar species references to aid positive identification.