The Crossley ID Guides: Raptors and more!


Perched on a fifth floor windowsill in downtown Trenton, New Jersey, a young Cooper’s Hawk stood close enough to peer into his (or her?) eyes. A thick glass window separated the hawk from television producer Rich Renner’s camera. The hawk visited frequently. We were interested, and the bird, no less so.

I know this is a Cooper’s Hawk because the bird matches the pictures and description in a new book called Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. If Rich’s photograph included the tail feathers, I could probably tell you whether we’re looking at a male or a female bird. I know a lot more from the descriptive text: this particular bird is probably under a year old because its coloration changes after its first molt, which occurs around age one. Here in the U.S., Cooper’s Hawk is a very common bird, seem most of the year in most of the states (less so in the Great Plains, where it’s mostly seen in warmer or cooler months).


The Crossley ID Guide has become especially popular because the birds are shown (or digitally added to) natural habitats. The birds in flight, above, are Sharp-Shinned Hawks–apparently, the adults are often mistaken for Cooper’s Hawks. Here, the hawks are flying around one of the U.S.’s most popular birding sites (home of the annual World Series of Birding), Cape May, New Jersey.

Birding, and books for birders, are more popular than ever before. This is, in part, due to interest from an aging baby boom population (especially with women), the availability of digital photography and the requisite long lenses (especially among the men), and, generally, a growing awareness of nature. In particular, the work of Richard Crossley, a long-time birder and bird photographer, has gained notice because of the inviting visual approach used in the books. The book is filled with lavish natural spreads, or composites, as above, and also with visual quizzes in which readers are asked to identify birds in flight, as below.


I especially like the Raptors book because the birds themselves are both fascinating and often present in the area where I live. When I spot a raptor flying above, I can’t help but stop and watch the bird in flight, often for quite a long time. They are very special birds, both from afar and close up, and the new ID Guide adds texture and context to their visual appeal.

The book about raptors is runs several hundred pages, but it that’s only about half as long as the weighty volume about Eastern Birds. This is a book that will entertain you all summer long, especially if you enjoy watching backyard birds, or if you’re willing to schlep this volume along on vacation. Here’s a layout of Glossy or White-faced Ibis, beautiful page after page featuring the secrets of owls in their habitats: Short-eared, Long-eared, Barred, Barn, Great Horn, Northern Saw-whet, Eastern Screech, Elf, Burrowing, and more. There are both Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers, each in its own full-page layout. Chickadees, robins, thrush, various warblers, and the wonderful Little Blue Heron who seems to enjoy bathing in a creek just across from my home.

These are the birds you see every day, or sometimes, glimpse while traveling. They come alive in these layouts, making the Eastern Birds book one of the best browses around. The Crossley Raptors book has three things that the Eastern Birds book does not: first, those wonderful visual quiz layouts. the wonderful visual quizzes; second, lengthy descriptions about each individual species; and, third, my favorite part, which goes something like this:

On a frigid winter day, a mass of songbirds anxiously feeds on seed strewn in a grassy area cleared of snow, their bustling chatter discernible through the living room window. At once, they freeze, pinning themselves low to the ground in response to alarm calls from nearby jays. From the center of the yard a blue streak appears, seemingly materializing from thin air, moving swiftly toward the flock. The group scatters as a high-speed chase ensues. The small, compact hawk picks its target. It extends its long legs and talons outward and fans its long tail as it banks sharply and snatches a White-throated Sparrow from midair. The hawk disappears into the brambly thickets without moving a branch; the only evidence of the event is a plume of feathers softly floating to the ground.”

Each description begins that way: with an observer’s sense of the birds living their lives.

Special books, indeed. but don’t take my word for it. Try a free sample!

This link takes you to Princeton University Press’s FREE (yes, completely free) download of the new Crossley ID Guide: Raptors book as a .pdf, and also another free book about garden birds. Download here, then add it to your tablet or smartphone for reference wherever you happen to be.

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