Sparrows are as complicated as they are common. This is an essential guide to identifying 76 kinds, along with a fascinating history of human interactions with them.
What, exactly, is a sparrow? All birders (and many non-birders) have essentially the same mental image of a pelican, a duck, or a flamingo, and a guide dedicated to waxwings or kingfishers would need nothing more than a sketch and a single sentence to satisfactorily identify its subject. Sparrows are harder to pin down. Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America covers one family (Passerellidae), which includes towhees and juncos, and 76 members of the sparrow clan.
Birds have a human history, too, beginning with their significance to native cultures and continuing through their discovery by science, their taxonomic fortunes and misfortunes, and their prospects for survival in a world with ever less space for wild creatures. Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America includes not just facts and measurements, but stories – of how birds got their names and how they were discovered – of their entanglement with human history.
Rick Wright leads "Birds and Art" tours in Europe and the Americas for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. A native of southeast Nebraska, he studied French, German, philosophy, and life sciences at the University of Nebraska. After a detour to Harvard Law School, Rick took the M.A. and Ph.D. in German at Princeton University. His years as an academic included appointments as assistant professor of German at the University of Illinois, reader/scholar at Princeton University's Index of Christian Art, and associate professor of medieval studies at Fordham University. Rick lives with his wife, Alison Beringer, and their chocolate lab, Gellert, in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
"[...] So… are family guides still relevant today? Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America shows that they can be. But is it worth having? If you’re looking for basic identification or natural history information, then no, a specialized identification guide or online resources would serve for that. But if your interest in the sparrows goes beyond that to, among other things, range and identification of subspecies and their human history, then it is well worth having. I think the human history aspects alone make it worthwhile. How many reference guides can you pick up, turn to any species, and get a good story?"
– Grant McCreary (30-06-2019), read the full review at The Birder's Library