Announcing the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds

Announcing the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds

I am thrilled to announce that I have signed a book contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to produce The Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds, the first comprehensive guide to the sounds of North American birds.  In addition to species accounts that will illustrate each sound of each species with spectrograms, the book will feature an innovative audio index that will make it possible to look up unfamiliar sounds in the field.

The guide will be published in two volumes, Eastern and Western.  The tentative publication date for the Eastern volume is 2015, with the Western volume following about nine months later.  The books will be accompanied by thousands of streaming online audio clips from the collection of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, supplemented by my own recordings and those of Andrew Spencer in addition to a number of other fine recordists.  The streaming audio will be freely and publicly accessible on the internet.  The Macaulay clips, at least, will be downloadable for an extra fee.


So far, this book project has been nearly a decade in the making.  It was in 2003 that I first conceived of an index to bird sounds as the basis for an audio field guide.  At the time, I was completely unqualified to realize my vision, but I set out to do it anyway, hoping against hope that nobody would beat me to it.  Virtually everything related to bird sounds that I’ve done since — including this entire blog and every single one of my recordings — has been done with this goal in mind.

I set out to write this book because I desperately wanted to use it in the field. I’ve never had the supersonic ears of a Ted Floyd or the tape-recorder memory of a Ted Parker; memorization-based approaches haven’t worked all that well for me.  I wanted a book that would contain vast quantities of bird sound knowledge so that my head didn’t have to.

Bird sounds needed

As I go through the painstaking process of researching the sounds of each species, I regularly find out about sounds that are not represented, or poorly represented, in the audio collections I have access to.  I have created a Google spreadsheet with a preliminary  list of the sounds I still need recordings of (or better recordings of).  Some of them are obscure and rarely heard, but some of them are easy — the kind of thing I could record on an average day in my neighborhood if I had a little more free time.  The list is regularly updated as my research progresses, and it will be permanently linked under “Bird Sounds Needed” at the top of the page.

If you record bird sounds, please take a look — and if you think you might be able to help me out, please drop me a line at

14 thoughts on “Announcing the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds

  1. Congrats to you Nathan, I am a fellow bird brain and so happy for you, can’t wait to get a copy.
    (claire, emma and Adam’s mom and nurse at cheley) Denise da nurse P

  2. Exciting news! This sounds brilliant, and great news for you (and me too–I’ve wanted something like this for two decades now). Looking forward to that and the app (I’ll buy eastern, western and associated apps without any hesitation).

  3. Nathan, I remember you mentioning several years back that you were working toward publishing a book on bird song. Looks like it has come to pass in a big way. It sounds like a monumental task. I definitely look forward to seeing the finished product.

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