Field Guides to the Birds of Beijing

There are two major field guides that cover the birds of Beijing.  If you can buy only one, your choice will most likely depend on whether you are visiting East China only or covering more of this vast country.  My strong recommendation for Beijing and east China is “The Birds of East Asia” by Mark Brazil.  This book covers southeast Russia, eastern China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.  Although not flawless, in general it has excellent plates, good covering text and distribution maps.  Buy it! As of April 2020, this book is available in Chinese as well as English.

CHEN Yanzhi with Birds of East Asia
Young Beijing birder, CHEN Yanzhi, with her copy of The Birds of East Asia courtesy of
The Chinese version was launched in April 2020 and is available via online sales platforms. See here.

However, the Mark Brazil guide does NOT cover species encountered in central and western China (e.g. Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai).  Therefore, if you are travelling further afield than Beijing or Beidaihe, you will require something with greater geographic coverage.  Until recently, the only field guide covering all of China was the Mackinnon and Phillips guide “A Field Guide to the Birds of China“.

Li Haoming with MacKinnon guide
LI Haoming with his copy of A Field Guide To The Birds of China, kindly donated by

This guide is often criticised by visiting birders as the text is not as accurate and the plates of not such high quality when compared with the most modern western field guides.  However, this criticism is unfair.  It should be remembered that this is a pioneering work covering all of China and, crucially, it has also been translated into Chinese, so it is THE standard guide for most Chinese birders.  For that reason it is a book that deserves much respect and praise – it has made birding accessible to the nascent scene in China.  The quality of some of the plates (eg. the phylloscopus warblers) will confuse many birders new to China.  However, as long as one does not expect this guide to be perfect, it will prove to be a very useful, if limited, guide to any birder travelling in China.

As of February 2021, a new Field Guide to the Birds of China is available from Chinese National Geography.  Put together by an all-Chinese team led by Professor Liu Yang of Sun Yat-Sen University, with a new series of plates by Chinese artists and new distribution maps, it is a major and welcome step forward for birding in China.  Although the text is in Chinese, scientific and english bird names are given.  It is available for delivery overseas to a limited number of countries, including the UK and US, via the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society.  

If you read Chinese, there is another book you may wish to consider about Beijing, although it is out of print, so only available in second-hand book stores or online:

The Birds of Beijing by Cai (1987).


This book describes the status of birds in Beijing and includes some original sketches, including this Japanese Waxwing…


and a comparison of the tails of grey shrikes.


And if you travel to Shanghai, do consider the new Birds of China, Southeast China, including Shanghai by Liu Yang, Yu Yat-tung and Yong Ding Li.  Written by locals with excellent photographs and descriptions.

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