Information about wild birds is widely available online and in books, professional journals, and a handful of popular magazines. Superficially, the magazines seem redundant, but upon closer inspection each has found its own niche. A subscription to a bird magazine makes a great gift for anyone interested in wild birds.
Recently, I spoke to the editors of the popular wild bird magazines. In their own words, here's how they see their publications.
Bill Thompson III edits BirdWatcher's Digest, a family operation based in Marietta, Ohio. ''We consider ourselves a magazine for people who like to read,'' Thompson explained. ''For me, reading is about immersing myself in a story. And that's what we try to do with the magazine.''
''We want BirdWatcher's Digest to be a welcome mat for people to learn about birds and birdwatchers,'' Thompson said. ''We describe ourselves as the magazine for birdwatchers who love to read and readers who love birds. Our motto is, 'We're birdwatchers just like you.' We try to include something for everyone in each issue.''
To subscribe (six issues per year, $19.95), visit www.birdwatchersdigest.com or call 1-800-879-2473.
BirdWatching, which until last April was called Birder's World, is the coffee table magazine of the group. The photos in each issue have always been spectacular. Editor Chuck Hagner understands. ''The photos are what our readers love about BirdWatching. We pride ourselves on presenting superb photos just as our photographers saw the images.''
Hagner got hooked on birds as a kid when his father helped him build a bird feeder from a plastic milk jug. ''I was so impressed with the colorful birds that suddenly came to our backyard,'' he said.
When asked to explain how BirdWatching is different from the other bird magazines, Hagner replied proudly, ''Where else can you read Pete Dunne, Kenn Kaufman and David Sibley in every issue?''
To subscribe (six issues per year, $26.95, look for online specials as low as $18.95), visit www.birdwatchingdaily.com or call 1-800-533-6644.
Amy Hooper became a birder after becoming editor at WildBird. ''I am an editor who happens to work at a bird magazine,'' she explained. But it didn't take long for her to catch the bug. She's been birding in Costa Rica several times since 1998, when she joined the magazine.
''When I plan each year's editorial calendar,'' she explained, ''I try to reach beginning and intermediate birders with articles that inform and entertain. We cover everything from backyard birding to birding tours, but our travel topics focus on the Americas.''
To subscribe (six issues per year, $19.97), visit www.wildbirdmagazine.com/subscribe or call 1-800-542-1600.
Living Bird is the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's quarterly magazine. It is a members-only publication, and membership includes a subscription to the Lab's newsletter, BirdScope.
Editor Tim Gallagher explained how Living Bird differs from the other wild bird magazine. ''We publish longer, more research-oriented articles,'' he said. ''We target a more educated audience. I've heard some people call us the New Yorker of the bird magazines.''
Gallagher explained his editorial philosophy: ''Researchers love what they do, and we try to capture that passion. Living Bird doesn't read like a scientific journal, but neither do we dumb things down.''
To subscribe (four issues per year, $40), visit www.birds.cornell.edu or call 1-866-989-2473.
Birding, the American Birding Association's bimonthly magazine, is also a members-only publication. Membership also includes a subscription to Winging It, the ABA's newsletter.
When I mentioned to Editor Ted Floyd that I considered Birding a magazine for serious birders, he corrected me. ''Birding is for anyone seriously interested in birds, not just serious birders. It's about enjoying and having fun with birds,'' he explained. ''We welcome beginners and view birding as a human activity. We explore the human-bird nexus.''
''My hope,'' Floyd told me, ''is that every feature conveys the joy of birding and that readers pick up some useful facts or information from each article.''
To subscribe (six issues per year, $45), visit www.aba.com or call 1-800-850-2473.
If someone on your holiday gift list loves birds, a subscription to any of these magazines would be appreciated.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email via my website, scottshalaway.googlepages.com.