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The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America

The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America

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The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America

In partnership with
James Currie, Birding Enthusiast
National Geographic
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4.6 out of 5
25 Reviews
88% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 7782
Sale
Video Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Learn bird identification techniques, encompassing bird size, shape, and color, flight patterns, distribution, habitats, and much more
  • Discover the roles and dazzling variety of bird plumage
  • Understand the extraordinary phenomenon of birdsong
  • Master the exciting range of tactics for locating, observing and approaching birds in the field

Course Overview

Birds have often held a special fascination for humanity. Venerated as deities and powerful symbols in the mythology of ancient Egypt, China, the Maya, and other cultures, through the millennia birds have remained mysterious, magnetic, and irresistible. In the 18th and 19th centuries, naturalists traveled the earth in search of the most resplendent avian species, and the advent of science has only increased interest in the amazingly varied world of birds. Today this fascination continues in the modern activity of birding, a passionate and well organized pursuit for people around the world.

Birding is a pastime that enriches and challenges hobbyists on multiple levels. Going beyond basic bird identification, birding includes a far-reaching look into matters such as bird behavior, migration, habitats, conservation, and the science behind them. Ultimately, birding offers the opportunity to participate in the systematic study of birds, and to help science advance its understanding of them. As such, birding involves direct contact with one of our primary treasures of wildlife, and some of the most beautiful of all living creatures.

Now, The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America, taught by internationally respected birding expert James Currie, takes you deeply into this compelling, delightful, and multifaceted field, focusing on the astounding wealth of bird species found in North America.

Among the world’s top birding territories, North America--encompassing the United States, Canada, and Mexico--holds a special place. With its rich geographical diversity and wide range of wildlife habitats, North America is a paradise of bird species, and an inexhaustible field of interest for birders from around the globe. From iconic species such as the soaring California Condor, the fiery-pink American flamingo, and the magnificent frigatebird to the raptors, wading birds, forest and desert dwellers, seabirds, and the melodious songbirds that populate our own neighborhoods, North America offers one of the most outstanding spectrums of bird species in the world.

Discover the Remarkable Lives and Incredible Diversity of Birds

The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America introduces you to the joys of birding and bird identification in 24 engaging and richly enjoyable lectures, which cover the field in comprehensive detail. Across the span of the course, you’ll explore important components of birding, such as

  • the essentials of bird anatomy and taxonomy, and how this knowledge helps you critically in the field;
  • a thorough study of how to identify birds, plus related topics such as birding by ear, and birding at night;
  • key optical equipment for birding, highlighting binoculars and spotting scopes, and how to use them; and
  • the exciting activity of locating, approaching, and observing birds in the field.

You’ll also take a detailed look at the vast range of North American bird species, using the forthcoming 7th edition of the classic National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America as a foundation and reference, as well as learning about further important facets of birding, such as how to photograph birds, the best North American birding locations, and important elements of bird conservation.

In their remarkable scope and detail, these lectures are of great value not only for beginning birders, but for experienced enthusiasts who would like to extend and enrich their knowledge. Employing the vast resources of National Geographic, the renowned leader in wildlife and nature education, the course takes you into the field, using filmed demonstrations, location videos, and audio recordings of birdsong, as well as an abundance of visual images. With their substantial material on bird photography, these 24 content-rich lessons are a valuable reference for photographers and will deepen your appreciation of the wonders of the world around you, in the extraordinary lives of the birds which surround us yet often go unnoticed.

Learn the Many Enthralling Facets of Birding

Mr. Currie brings a lifetime of birding experience and a breathtaking knowledge of the avian world to this course, opening doors to every aspect of this world-spanning activity. A warm and inspiring lecturer, he devotes the course’s first half to a study of birding’s core elements, including:

  • Bird Identification--In building bird identification skills, learn to recognize orders, families, and species of birds by specific physical characteristics, such as their shape or silhouette, size, color, and anatomical features; additionally, study many other factors which aid in the challenges of identification, encompassing birds’ flight patterns, habitats, geographic ranges, feeding habits, and more;
  • The Roles and Dazzling Variety of Bird Plumage--Investigate the functions and different types of bird feathers and plumage variations; observe how many species pass through multiple plumage phases within their lifetime; how others undergo radical seasonal changes in plumage; and how evolution produces the shimmering colors of species such as the green jay, the eared quetzal, and the roseate spoonbill;
  • The Extraordinary Phenomenon of Birdsong—Learn how to recognize bird calls, and about the astonishing ways birds vocalize to communicate; discover how many melodic bird songs are actually “boasts”; how some birds have a repertoire of different alarm calls; and how specific species actually develop regional “dialects”;
  • Avian Migration—Study the remarkable story of migration, as it manifests in numerous bird species; investigate awe-inspiring examples, from the 25,000-mile seasonal flight of the arctic tern to the spring roosting in Nebraska of half a million sandhill cranes;
  • The Marvel of Bird Behavior—Grasp how knowledge of bird behavior aids identification; take account of striking behavioral features such as the western grebe’s dramatic, synchronized mating ritual; the white pelican’s group “herding” of fish; and the mockingbird’s ability to learn over 200 different songs, mimicking other species and environmental sounds;
  • Encountering Birds in the Field—Learn key field methods for observing birds; stealth techniques for tracking and approaching birds; ways to attract birds by mimicking bird calls and predators; and how to bring birds into your own yard or surroundings.

Explore North America’s Limitless Birding Opportunities

Spanning the North American continent, you’ll delve into the specifics of bird habitats, from forest and desert to wetlands, chaparral, and tundra, finding the unique avian species that make them their home, as well as how to observe birds in these types of terrain. You’ll also study the principle flyways of bird migration across North America, from east to west and north to south, and the spectacles of migrating species you can observe in each.

After you have learned the basics of birding, you’ll devote six lectures to a panoramic view of the bird species of North America, using vivid color images of our miraculous range of birdlife. Beginning with pelagic (ocean) birds, you’ll encounter waterfowl and shorebirds, raptors, and bird families containing the cuckoos, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, kingfishers, and many others, before taking a three-lecture tour of the Passerine order, the largest group, comprising the perching or songbirds. Finally, from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge to Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park, you’ll investigate 23 of the top North American birding spots, locations which attract many hundreds of species.

Throughout the course, Mr. Currie speaks eloquently of the need for conservation of our precious bird species, and what we as individuals can do to protect endangered birds and their habitats. You’ll also learn about organizations that promote avian welfare, and how you can participate directly in their efforts, both at home and in the field.

The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America is your key to the extraordinary world of birds and birding--in your own backyard as well as across our majestic continent; an endlessly diverse and rewarding pursuit which offers you a lifetime of pleasure and discovery.

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24 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Birding Basics: Bird Origins and Taxonomy
    Begin by delving into the history of birdwatching in the U.S., from the early naturalists of the 18th century to today's highly organized activity. Then look into the origins of birds, and how they are linked evolutionarily to dinosaurs and early reptiles. Finally, explore bird taxonomy, and how their scientific classification aids us in identifying them in the field. x
  • 2
    Basic Bird Anatomy
    Investigate the anatomy of birds, and how understanding anatomical features aids us in identification. Then learn about the fascinating range of bird feathers, and their different functions. Observe how understanding the flight patterns of birds helps identify them in the field. Last, compare two common birds, as an exercise in using the knowledge you've learned so far. x
  • 3
    Size, Shape, and Color as Birding Tools
    Look first at three physical tools that you can use right away to become a more effective birder. Consider how familiarity with the shape or silhouette of bird families, as well as bird size, aid you in focusing in on exact species. Study the color factors of pigment and keratin, as they produce the dazzling range of bird coloration, and investigate color as an identification tool. x
  • 4
    Bird Distribution, Status, and Endemism
    Take account of three further aids for bird identification. See how charting birds' distribution or geographical range provides much useful information about specific species. Grasp the benefits of knowing a bird's status, or abundance vs. rarity, and how status can change. Also study the factor of endemism, where birds are limited to one specific region, and the uses of this information. x
  • 5
    Habitat and Season as Birding Tools
    Explore the North American habitats of forest, grasslands, desert, sagebrush, chaparral, and tundra, distinguishing their specific features and the amazing birds that are native to each of these environments. Add to this knowledge by investigating the roles of habitat specialization, the seasons, and migration patterns as they help us in identifying bird species. x
  • 6
    Introduction to Birding Optics
    This lecture discusses the core optical tools that aid us in observing birds in the field. Study the parts of a pair of binoculars, and the pros and cons of different types of binoculars. Learn how to use binoculars for birding, highlighting matters such as magnification, field of view, and depth of field. Also take account of spotting scopes, and how they provide detail that binoculars can't. x
  • 7
    Tactics for Better Birding
    Today, review a range of methods for attracting birds, in the field and at home. In both places, consider the use of stealth and concealment techniques, for observing while remaining unobserved. Study the remarkable ability of sounds to attract birds, and the use of water, plants, and feeders in your yard. Also learn about important ways to record your observations. x
  • 8
    Using Bird Behavior to Identify Birds
    Look into six categories of bird behavior, as they provide vital information for identification. See how individual species are distinguished by typical or unique behavioral traits. Study the distinctive feeding habits of many species, and how we can recognize species from flight and flocking behavior. End by exploring the extraordinary mating and nesting customs of North American birds. x
  • 9
    Understanding Variations in Plumage
    Plumage variation in a single bird reveals much useful information. First, take account of plumage differences based on sex, and seasonal plumage changes. Then investigate the remarkable range of age-related plumage variation in birds. Learn how birds molt (shed and replace plumage), and how hybrid species, as well as genetic and environmental factors, pose challenges for identification. x
  • 10
    Birding by Ear
    Study the physics and biology of avian sounds, which underlie the rich range of birdsong heard in the field. Discover how birds learn to vocalize, and how bird songs and calls are used for a remarkable spectrum of communication. Look at mimicry in birds, ways to use recordings to attract birds, and how digital technology can teach us more about bird vocalization. x
  • 11
    Essentials of Bird Migration
    Migration seasons provide excellent opportunities to sight unfamiliar bird species. Here, uncover the evolutionary origins of migration, and why birds migrate. Study the triggers and geographical patterns of migration, and the four principal “flyways” (migration zones) of North America. Learn how to maximize your sightings of migrating birds, and how technology can aid this. x
  • 12
    Birding at Night
    Some additional birding skills are needed for night viewing of birds. Learn about equipment for night birding, ways of locating nocturnal birds, and approaches to viewing migrating birds at night. Then investigate the fascinating range of night birds, encompassing the great diversity of owls, as well as species such as night-herons, nighthawks, and nightjars. x
  • 13
    Pelagic Birding
    Open sea birding adds another exciting dimension to birdwatching. Begin with an introduction to sea trips for birding, covering types of excursions and vessels, equipment, and important logistical and safety information. Preview the remarkable birds you'll see, from the mysterious albatross to petrels, tropicbirds, pelicans, gulls, puffins, and the best places to embark from to see them. x
  • 14
    Waterbirds, Shorebirds, and Game Birds
    In the first of six lectures on the bird families of North America, study four groups of birds that most people will find close to home. Begin with waterfowl, birds that swim in fresh water or near the ocean shore. Continue with wading birds, with their distinct physical profile; shorebirds, a vast group which includes sandpipers; and upland game birds. x
  • 15
    Diurnal Raptors
    Now travel into the world of these iconic and alluring birds of prey, and their distinguishing features, ranges, and behaviors. Learn about New World vultures, including the magnificent California condor. Also encounter the osprey, kites, eagles, hawks, falcons, kestrels, and the crested caracara. Consider the challenges of raptor-watching, and their unusual history with humans. x
  • 16
    From Doves to Kingfishers
    Here, study several diverse groups of birds, ranging from the familiar to the exotic. Explore the surprising variety of pigeons and doves, and trace the sad demise of the passenger pigeon. Note the presence of “introduced” parrots in the U.S., and discover the range of cuckoos, anis, woodpeckers, trogons, swifts, hummingbirds, and kingfishers that flourish across North America. x
  • 17
    Passerines: From Flycatchers to Thrushes
    Begin to uncover the huge spectrum of Passerines (perching or songbirds). Start with the flycatchers, aerialists adept at catching insects in midair, and the shrikes, rare songbirds with a raptor lifestyle. Within this far-ranging lecture, encounter bird families such as the crows and jays, magpies, larks, swallows, chickadees, wrens, dippers (the only aquatic songbirds), and thrushes. x
  • 18
    Passerines: From Thrashers to Warblers
    Continue with the astonishing variety of North American songbirds. Learn about birds that mimic, the mockingbirds and catbird, and the thrashers, with their namesake feeding behavior. Track the striking bulbuls, the starlings, pipits, wagtails, waxwings, longspurs, and snow buntings, and finish with the vast array of warbler species, and the challenges they pose to identification. x
  • 19
    Passerines: From Tanagers to Finches
    Today, complete your review of the Passerines (songbirds). Beginning with the seed-eating towhees, explore the many varieties of New World sparrows, the juncos, and Old World buntings. Then study the tanagers, cardinals, dickcissels, grosbeaks, and vivid New World buntings, before concluding with families such as the meadowlarks, blackbirds, grackles, orioles, finches, and crossbills. x
  • 20
    Photography for Birders
    Lay a foundation for fine bird photography, starting with the basics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO (light sensitivity), and focus. Investigate the use of natural light at different times of the day, and the best equipment for photographing birds. Learn how to approach birds and capture them on camera, and consider the advantages of digiscoping (photography through a spotting scope). x
  • 21
    Birding Sites in Eastern North America
    Learn about eleven of the best birding destinations in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. Among them, pay visits to Maine's Monnegan Island, a stopping place for a huge variety of migrants; Cape May, New Jersey, a locus of great birding sites and a haunt of famed birders; and Ohio's Magee Marsh, a legendary birding spot which hosts 338 bird species. x
  • 22
    Birding Sites in Western North America
    Among twelve top Western birding sites, visit the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, nesting site of forty million seabirds; California's Point Reyes National Seashore, which hosts a massive 490 species; the Grand Canyon, a Globally Important Bird Area; and a Texas park that sees a million migrating raptors each fall. x
  • 23
    Birds and People
    Contemplate the deep and long-term interactions between birds and humans. Beginning in ancient times, explore the roles birds have played in diverse civilizations, and how birds have benefited people in ways ranging from hunting to pest control. In today's world, take account of citizen science efforts, bird banding, and other ways birders can contribute to scientific knowledge. x
  • 24
    Birding Ethics and Conservation
    Consider guidelines for ethical birding, based in respect for fellow birders and non-birders alike. Conclude with a far-reaching look at matters affecting bird welfare, at both the individual and species level. Review current environmental factors that endanger birds, and actions you can take, both individually and through organizations, to safeguard our precious bird species. x

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  • Ability to download 24 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 244-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 244-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested Reading
  • Activities
  • Bibliography

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Your professor

James Currie

About Your Professor

James Currie, Birding Enthusiast
National Geographic
A lifelong birding enthusiast and native of South Africa, James Currie is one of the most recognizable faces in birding in North America. He holds a bachelor’s degree in African Languages from the University of Cape Town and a master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management from Middlesex University London. Mr. Currie hosts Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV, a popular birding show airing on Discovery...
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Reviews

The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 25.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent program We bought this about 3 weeks ago and have enjoyed every minute of it
Date published: 2017-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lessons! I purchased this and have been enjoying it everyday. I am a birder and every minute counts!
Date published: 2017-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I truly enjoyed watching this course. I'm a fairly new birder and although I new a lot of the information I didn't mind hearing it again in the context of this course. This course also filled in a lot of gaps in information and expanded my understanding of birds and birding in many ways.
Date published: 2017-07-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Useful course A lot of great information here as a general overview of birding techniques and identification. Biggest concern is that the instructor references things like song or call but they don't include a recording of it. Granted, these are 30 minute lessons so they can't include everything but at the same time, in one lesson they spent several minutes discussing the passenger pigeon which has been extinct since 1914. Why talk about a bird we will NEVER see, yet say a particular dove can be identified by its call and not play the call? This is only one example. Otherwise, the instructor knows his topic, his presentation flows, though occasional words are at first a mystery due to his accent, but context allows you to figure it out. The associated lesson-book doesn't add much; the text follows the lecture, which is fine if you need to see what he says in black and white, but all the photos of birds in the book are also in black and white so they add absolutely nothing to the course.
Date published: 2017-07-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very disappointing Course Guidebook This course is very good, but very expensive. The accompanying guidebook is cheaply produced with poor quality, black and white photographs
Date published: 2017-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's complicated Great information about birds and birding which are different topics. Certainly, you learn about birds, but also how to be a 'birder', how to engage in the hobby of watching them. I have learned much, mainly how much I didn't know about birds. Some might be put off a bit by the accent. It is endurable, although you may be confused at times by his pronunciation. ('Migratory' threw me at first.) Also Mr. Currie can't stand still. He rocks front to back or side to side constantly. The camera has to back off to keep him in frame. I also found the audio uneven. Mr. Currie's voice would momentarily drop off a little then come back. Most annoying to me was the video screen on the set that cycled through the same bird pictures throughout. I kept expecting the pictures on the background to be relevant to his topic at the time. They weren't. The pictures were just random pictures. It was a distraction. Others have mentioned that at times he seemed to be talking down to his audience. For instance, before introducing the anatomy of birds, he compares this to the different positions on a football team. It was forced, unnecessary, and silly. All of these points, though, are minor. It is an excellent course and highly recommended.
Date published: 2017-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accessibility, Variety of courses, Luv GC's
Date published: 2017-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from How to Skip the Newbee Phase in Birding Like many people who are likely to purchase this, I have been "watching" birds for a long time. Most things you can purchase related to birds tend to favor the "birdwatcher." Few things are meant for the "birder." This is for the serious birder (or someone who would like to become one). If you are the casual background birdwatcher and are not interested in learning the complex decision trees to sift through the hundreds of species in North America, you may want to wait for The Great Courses Plus and give it a look, or pass altogether. This is for people who travel with the hopes of seeing specific birds. It wasn't until I moved to the Boston area, which boasts a very active (and sometimes aggressive!) birding community that I truly learned how to bird. This type of community is very rare, and for people who live in areas without such a tight-knit, techno-savvy birding community, James Currie comes through to bring you up to speed. He will educate you on etiquette (playback is surprisingly mentioned later than pishing), taxonomy, habitat, GISS, behaviors, migration, optics, and anatomy, as well as specifics of different species. He also mentions newer technologies like EBird, which makes it more relevant. One note on field guides: He pushes the NatGeo guide (he has to). If you do not yet have a favorite--look at them in person. Compare at least the big three, NatGeo, Sibley's, and Peterson's. Make sure you know what you are getting in images, information, and bulk. I started on an Audubon guide in the early 1990s, which proved to be a horrible introduction. I couldn't navigate it. Once I got the newly-released Sibley Guide, my ability to identify birds took off. Make sure your guide works for you. I now use Sibley's guide on my phone, which gives me my favorite guide without the extra 3 lbs (really). It also gives me access to calls and songs, and he updates it occasionally with new accidental species. I enjoy that Mr. Currie teaches you how to think about birds--why aren't Cardinals found in Northern Canada? He also uses a mix of well-known birds (Northern Cardinals) and lesser-known birds (Black-Crowned Night-Herons) in his examples. He does sort of breeze through the species towards the end in order to talk about the vast majority found in North America. That section will be less interesting to more seasoned birders looking for nuance. Regarding the presentation: The lecturer is from South Africa. If you are not familiar with a British or Australian accent, you may wish to purchase the transcript. There are some particular dialectal pronunciations (aluminum, respiratory) that will throw most American listeners who are not already aware of these differences. If you are generally familiar with foreign accents--I would not worry about this. The lecturer is very fluid with his speech, and has a soothing sound. His speech is very evenly paced and he has great diction. I think older listeners will appreciate this aspect of the presentation. Some lecturers are less clear in their diction, and even young ears find them less engaging. Unless you are about to embark on your Big Year, or are considered the local expert leading guided tours, I can imagine that you would benefit from the knowledge and presentation of James Currie. If I had had access to this as a young birder, my birding experience would have been greatly accelerated. If you are an advanced birder, do not purchase this looking to learn something that you expect to find in a Ken Kaufman book--think of this as a purchase to share with someone you'd like to get interested in birding. Happy Birding!
Date published: 2017-06-24
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