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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, for english speakers at least, 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!

The Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil. Easily the best guide to the birds of Beijing.
The Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil. Easily the best guide to the birds of Beijing.

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.  The only field guide covering all of China is still the Mackinnon and Phillips guide “A Field Guide to the Birds of China“.

“A Field Guide to the Birds of China” by Mackinnon and Phillips. Still the only option if a guide to all of China’s birds is needed.

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.

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

The Birds of Beijing by Cai (1987).

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

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and a comparison of the tails of grey shrikes.

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