Review: Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America

Short Version: If you bird on or near the ocean, buy this book and read it.

Slightly Longer Version: Steve Howell’s guide to petrels (including shearwaters), albatrosses, and storm-petrels is a must-have resource for anyone who aspires to identify birds on the open ocean. Some would argue that those of us who don’t get out to sea very often don’t really need such an in-depth guide, that a standard field guide will suffice for the occasional pelagic trip. But I would argue that such a detailed treatment of seabirds is actually more important for less experienced seabirders.

Pelagic birding is very different from land-based birding. On a moving boat in rough seas, optics are all but useless. A birder cannot focus on small details. Seabirds are identified by their shape, general color pattern, and flight style. Until now, the only way to learn these characteristics is to spend a lot of time on the ocean. Howell gives his readers the benefit of his extensive experience at sea, illustrated with lots of photos showing realistic views of seabirds. Along with beautifully detailed close-ups, we have photos of birds in the fog, birds in flight at a distance, birds in various stages of molt and feather wear, and birds sleeping on the water. In other words, real-life views of birds on the ocean. You can’t find those in a standard field guide.

The size, and price, of this book are both hefty, but Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America is a great investment for anyone who wants to learn more about seabirds. It will probably inspire you to take more pelagic trips, or at least spend more time looking out on the ocean.

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