Mexico field guide

To: John Harris <>
Subject: Mexico field guide
From: David Adams <>
Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2016 19:52:49 +0000
I may be a bit out of date, but below are some thoughts and links for
Mexico. First off, it's an amazing country for birds and more and wildly
diverse. Birds, habitats, landscapes, languages, cultural details and food
all change a great deal around the country. I haven't looked, but I
wouldn't be surprised to see that the birds of the Baja states are as
different to the birds of the Maya states as those of Australia are to
those of Bali. So, what you see will depend very much on where you go. (I'm
not sure where in Western Mexico you're going and I've only been to the
Baja states which have pretty abbreviated - if interesting - bird lists.)
When matters too for Mexico since migration is such an enormous factor in
Central and North America. If you're going to Jalisco, I'm jealous! Send a
trip report.

As you probably already know, a good place to look for info on foreign
places is the trip report catalog at CloudBirders:

If you don't speak Spanish, English is okay in a lot of places -
particularly where there are tourists. If you speak Spanish badly, it's
better than you might think. In Maya areas, plenty of locals use Spanish as
a second language which makes it *much* easier to communicate than with
first-language speakers. (Not that you'll be around Maya in Western Mexico.)

Great book: "A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America".
It was an instant classic that filled a huge hole and I don't believe
anything else has overtaken it. A few caveats about this book:

* It's massive, just massive.

* It leaves out coverage of most North American species. For birds, North
America is often treated as anywhere north of the Rio Grande and the
Neotropics are everything to the south. Translation: You need a North
American field guide. (If I remember right, the initial audience for this
book was US and Canadian birders and as a means of promoting and expanding
birding in Mexico.) Given that Mexico is on the narrow part of the
migration funnel, it makes sense to have an all-region guide like Sibley
rather than Sibley East and West. Sibley is also huge...

* Unless I'm mistaken (I'm away from home and my copy of Webb), the book
uses the old-fashioned format of color plates in the middle, species
descriptions keyed by species numbers and range maps in the back.

* I tried an Edwards guide but it felt like all of the birds were
illustrated with round heads.

* I'm not a fan of the Peterson's guides and don't remember loving the
Mexico on.

* I'd take paper guides, even if there are apps like Sibley, unless you're
already really comfortable with the birds and families of the region. I
find it really, really, really hard to get to grips with new families using

I'm not sure how far north you're going, but the border regions with the
USA sound just horrific now, sadly. Drugs flow north and guns flow south.

As far as other resources go, I don't believe that there is any app for
Mexico. However, the Sibley App for North America is excellent and so is

Cornell University has the biggest/most active Neotropical bird research
program on earth, going back many decades. Their sound libraries, etc. are
impressive. Their Web site also gets better all of the time:

Cornell is the group behind eBird, for those that don't know

Cornell has also done an amazing site on the Birds of Paradise:

...and they're the mob responsible for the sound collections in some
commercial bird apps and their free app Merlin:

If you aren't familiar with the region, it's *well* worth studying the
birds as much as you can in advance. Using rough numbers, here's how the
native species of birds in Australia and Mexico compare:

  Australia  Mexico  Shared
Species  770 1045  45
Genera  336  464  93
Families      96 93  42

Australia is about four times larger than Mexico which makes Mexico's
numbers even more impressive. Finding such huge differences between
Australia and Mexico isn't that big a shock since Australia is arguably the
most taxonomically divergent place on earth for birds. Still, the number of
shared species is really low and so is the number of families. (To be fair,
the New World has a high degree of families that aren't found elsewhere, or
at least not found in numbers.)

About six months ago I started spending time with a data visualization
library I really like and have been doing various experiments. One of these
has been a system to compare two different areas based on species lists and
a shared taxonomy. I've posted a fragment comparing Australia and Mexico.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to see a list of all of the families that
occur in either region. From there you can see how many species from each
family are in Australia, shared, and in Mexico. Hover for counts, click for
species names. Pay particular attention to the families that are well
represented in Mexico that are missing from (or scarce) in Australia.
Woodpeckers (and all of their wonderful cousins), Antbirds, Hummingbirds,
Tyrant Flycatchers, Trogons, and so on. This page is part of a bunch of
on-going sketches, so forgive any glitches. For example, the 'world
distribution map' link you may see at the bottom of the page won't lead to
a page.

Have a fantastic trip!
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