Sibley, David Allen 1962-
SIBLEY, David Allen 1962-
PERSONAL: Born 1962, in NY; son of Fred Sibley (an ornithologist); married Joan Walsh (an ornithologist), 1993; children: Evan, Joel. Education: Attended Cornell University.
CAREER: Writer and illustrator. Has held positions with Cape May Bird Observatory, Cape May, NJ, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, and Manomet Bird Observatory, Manomet, MA; birding tour guide.
(With Pete Dunne and Clay Sutton) Hawks in Flight:The Flight Identification of North American Migrant Raptors, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988.
The Birds of Cape May, with additional illustrations by Louise Zemaitis and Julian Hough, Cape May Bird Observatory (Cape May, NJ), 1993.
(Editor, with Chris Elphick and John B. Dunning, Jr.) The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Sibley's Birding Basics: How to Identify Birds, Using the Clues in Feathers, Habitats, Behaviors and Sounds, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern NorthAmerica, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western NorthAmerican, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Pete Dunne, Debbie Keller, and Rene Kochenberger, Hawk Watch: A Guide for Beginners, Cape May Bird Observatory (Cape May, NJ), 1984.
William J. Boyle, Jr., A Guide to Bird-Finding in NewJersey, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1986.
Pete Dunne, Tales of a Low-Rent Birder, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1986, reprinted, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1994.
Robert F. Andrle and Janet R. Carroll, The Atlas ofBreeding Birds in New York State, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1988.
Pete Dunne, The Wind Masters: The Lives of NorthAmerican Birds of Prey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Author, with Chris Elphick and John B. Dunning, Jr., of syndicated column, "Sibley on Birds," New York Times Syndicate, 2002—.
SIDELIGHTS: David Allen Sibley has parlayed his passions for painting and birding into a career as an author of field guides and identification texts for the birds of North America. His seminal work, National Audubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds hit the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list upon publication in 2000 and has since sold more than a half million copies. This monumental volume includes some 6,600 paintings of 810 birds, all from Sibley's hand; it has become so well known in birding circles that it is merely called "Sibley." The widely traveled author-illustrator has released subsequent titles that amplify the information in his Sibley Guide to Birds, including more portable field guides and a study of bird behavior. Birder's World contributor Jerome A. Jackson called Sibley "a bright star . . . in the constellation of field-guide authors."
The son of an ornithologist, Sibley began drawing and banding birds at the age of seven. His father's occupation gave the young Sibley unique opportunities, and he was encouraged to perfect his identification techniques. He was accepted into Cornell University's ornithology program, but he only lasted one year. Instead of completing a formal education, he worked his way across North America, watching and drawing birds from Florida to Alaska. By the mid-1980s he was supplying illustrations to bird guides, but he still nursed the idea of doing his own identification book. His wife, also an ornithologist, encouraged him. Sibley told Audubon magazine in 1998 that he had one goal in mind: "I'm trying to paint the field guide I always wished I had."
First published in 2000, The Sibley Guide to Birds "took North America by storm," according to Jackson. The work became the fastest-selling bird guide in history. It pictures every species of bird that nests in America and Canada, with color variations, juvenile plumage, and flight poses. Not only did Sibley paint every bird within the covers of the guide, he also wrote the accompanying text—a feat that consumed nearly two decades of his life. The project is all the more remarkable in that Sibley personally observed every species in the book except for one rare auk from the Aleutian Islands. Some of the notes in the book are based on field work he did as a teenager.
If critics had any quibble with The Sibley Guide to Birds, it was the fact that, at 544 pages and almost three pounds in weight, it is not particularly suitable to carry into the wild as a field guide. This minor caveat aside, most reviewers showered the volume with praise. "If a description of the Sibley guide had to be reduced to one word, 'comprehensive' would be my choice," wrote Raymond Perry in the New York State Conservationist. "Sibley's ability as an artist and experience as a field birder are apparent in this guide. . . . Anyone serious about identifying birds would be wise to have a copy handy." Science correspondent Hugh Dingle called the book a "must have" for serious birdwatchers, adding: "David Sibley intended his to be the quintessential identification guide, and he has succeeded admirably." A reviewer for American Heritage felt that the work "sets a dazzling new standard for bird guides," and a Whole Earth critic concluded that it "elevates bird learning to a new intimacy and clarity."
Sibley's other books, some with coauthors, all self-illustrated, expand upon the information introduced in The Sibley Guide to Birds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, edited by Sibley, Chris Elphick, and John B. Dunning, Jr., includes essays on all aspects of bird life, from the origins and evolution of birds to modern-day pressures on bird populations from such human ills as suburban sprawl and pesticide use. Wilson Bulletin contributor Sara R. Morris deemed the title "an excellent source of easily accessible, general information about birds for most bird enthusiasts." Birder's World's Jackson concluded: "Every once in a while, a really useful book comes along—one that has a purpose and an intended audience and that hits the mark in terms of content, organization and readability. This is such a book. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior is right on target to be a smashing success. Paired with . . . The Sibley Guide to Birds, it will raise birding to a new level."
Sibley's Birding Basics is a how-to guide that aims to increase bird watching proficiency. "There is a method to birding, and Sibley offers practical tips on how to become a master," maintained Michael Szpir in American Scientist. The book includes advice on general bird identification from overall color pattern, bird calls, and the various philosophies of birding. Sibley told Publishers Weekly: "I try to explain some of the things that might seem magical—how an experienced birder can look at a distant speck and identify the species.
The thought process you go through when you're identifying a bird, the way you can use different field marks and the way the appearance of a bird changes with the weather, the lighting, the time of year. Experienced birdwatchers develop that knowledge through hours in the field, and they do these things without even knowing they're doing them." A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that Sibley's Birding Basics "will enable birders of all skill and experience levels to improve their abilities and enhance the satisfaction of their birding treks."
Sibley's most recent guides are The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. They are small regional editions that have the portability birders require. Nancy Moeckel of Library Journal praised the books, "Concise species description . . . comparisons with similar species, field marks, range maps, the inclusion of exotics, and a good binding. . . . Sibley has accomplished the difficult task of condensing his previous guide to practical field size."
Sibley is not certain which came first in his life: his desire to draw birds or his desire to watch them. "For my whole life, the two activities, watching and drawing birds, have always been closely linked," he remarked in a Surfbirds.com interview. "I'm never in the field watching birds without thinking about drawing them, or drawing birds without remembering field experiences, and I would say that most of my talent for drawing birds comes from years of study and practice." Sibley's ability to communicate his enthusiasms has met with a warm reception amongst the nation's estimated 70 million birders.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Heritage, February, 2001, "Editor's Bookshelf," p. 20.
American Scientist, March, 2001, review of NationalAudubon Society: The Sibley Guide to Birds, p. 171; March, 2002, review of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, p. 176; January-February, 2003, Michael Szpir, review of Sibley'sBirding Basics: How to Identify Birds, Using the Clues in Feathers, Habitats, Behaviors and Sounds, p. 68.
Audubon, May-June, 1998, Jack Connor, "David Sibley's Magnificent Obsession," p. 70; September, 2000, Christopher Camuto, "What Bird Is That?," p. 108.
Birder's World, December, 2001, Jerome A. Jackson, "A New Era in Birding: The Dynamic Duo of Sibley Guides," p. 61.
Conservationist, November-December, 1988, review of Hawks in Flight, pp. 52-53.
Editor & Publisher, October 21, 2002, Dave Astor, "Bird Bard Migrates to Column-Writing," p. 33.
Entertainment Weekly, November 16, 2001, Ty Burr, "Not Just for the Birds," p. 119.
Library Journal, November 1, 2000, Nancy Moeckel, review of The Sibley Guide to Birds, p. 128; August, 2003, Nancy Moeckel, review of The Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, p. 126.
New York State Conservationist, December, 2001, Raymond Perry, review of The Sibley Guide to Birds, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, September 18, 2000, review of TheSibley Guide to Birds, p. 97; November 6, 2000, Daisy Maryles, "Strictly for the Birds," p. 24; July 16, 2001, review of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, p. 167; August 12, 2002, review of Sibley's Birding Basics, p. 285; November 18, 2002, Karen Angel, "David Allen Sibley: A Man for the Birds," p. 39.
Science, September 14, 2001, Hugh Dingle, review of The Sibley Guide to Birds, p. 2002.
Time, November 27, 2000, Paul Gray, "Birds in the Hand," p. 90; June 4, 2001, Charles P. Alexander, "For the Birds," p. 66.
Whole Earth, spring, 2001, review of The Sibley Guide to Birds, p. 14.
Wilson Bulletin, June, 2001, Anthony Hill, review of The Sibley Guide to Birds, p. 255; June, 2002, Sara R. Morris, review of The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, p. 285.
David Allen Sibley Home Page,http://www.sibleyguides.com/ (January 23, 2003).
Surfbirds.com,http://www.surfbirds.com/ (May 2, 2003), "David Sibley Online."*