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The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America

Leave the binoculars at home and take flight with a birding expert who brings you nose-to-beak with North America's stunning birds.
The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 161.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Buckle Your Seat Belt This is a very fast, very intense introduction to birding. James Currie covers a lot of ground in this course, and, by necessity, very superficially. Having said that I found the course very interesting, and I learned a lot about a subject of which I have a lot of interest without a lot of knowledge. Keeping bird feeders in our garden, my wife and I are fascinated by our feathered friends. My one negative on this course was the episode on photography. I did not need a lesson on the exposure triangle, and if you do there are plenty of other Wondrium courses that will elucidate you on the subject. I was expecting 30 minutes of techniques more geared to capturing good bird photographs, and while there was some of that, there was too much on photography basics. All in all, though, a very worthwhile course, with plenty of wonderful pictures and videos of birds. Mr. Currie was a very comfortable and effective style of presentation. If an introduction to birding is what you are after, look no farther.
Date published: 2023-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North I am near retirement and wanted to learn more about birding. I have ordered numerous Great Courses in the past and have thoroughly enjoyed them. This product did not disappoint. It was excellent- comprehensive, easy to follow and relevant. James Currie, was knowledgeable, easy to listen to and funny. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2023-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good for beginner and intermediate birders As an intermediate birder, I found the course informative and a good review. Presentation was very good.
Date published: 2022-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Birding in North America This course on Birding was outstanding, very informative. The instructor James Currie is first rate. If you want to make birding a hobby I highly recommend.
Date published: 2022-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Appropriate We have listened to five lectures and have thoroughly enjoyed! The photos, content and delivery are excellent! Thank You!
Date published: 2022-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Money well spent. Very informative great illustrations
Date published: 2022-04-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Guide to Birding in North America I bought couple of months ago. It is very educational regarding bird classifications, migration, birding suggestions and ethics etc. The presenter was very knowledgeable. I have learnt a lot.
Date published: 2022-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I have enjoyed Cornell Lab of Ornithology courses in the past, but this one was comprehensive and approachable, and actually served me better in many ways. The teacher is very clear and personable, and obviously very knowledgeable. Great course!
Date published: 2022-03-05
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Let an internationally celebrated birding expert and National Geographic photographer introduce you to the joys of birding across the North American continent.


James Currie

My goal is to inspire your next adventure and answer your questions about what to do, where, and when to do it. I want to ignite a sense of passion and love for wild and wonderful places that’ are like no other in the world.


National Geographic

James Currie is a safari guide with the world-renowned company Wilderness Safaris. As a lifelong wildlife enthusiast and native of South Africa, he has led professional wildlife and birding tours for many years, and his passion for adventure and remote cultures has taken him to nearly every corner of the globe.


Mr. Currie is an expert in the fields of sustainable development and environmental management, holding a bachelor’s degree in African Languages from the University of Cape Town and a master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management from Middlesex University London. His dissertation, which he presented to the Icelandic government in 2001, received a distinction and has been used as a model for assessing the relationships between wildlife areas and local communities. One of Mr. Currie’s passions is forging links between local communities, wildlife, and international travelers. From 2004 to 2007, he worked as the managing director of Africa Foundation, a nonprofit organization that directs its efforts toward uplifting communities surrounding wildlife areas in Africa.


Mr. Currie is a highly sought-after public speaker who has spoken to sold-out audiences at various venues, including the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City, The G2 Gallery in Los Angeles, the National Audubon Society headquarters in New York City, Zoo Miami, the Educational Travel Consortium’s Annual Conference, and the Travel & Adventure Show. He has appeared as a special guest on various television shows and radio programs, including Martha Stewart Living Radio and WGN-TV, and has been the subject of several newspaper articles in periodicals such as The Wall Street JournalThe Palm Beach Post, and the Orlando Sentinel.


Mr. Currie was the host of Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV, a popular birding show that aired for 10 seasons on Discovery Communications’ Destination America and the NBC Sports Network. He also hosted the action-birding show Aerial Assassins on Nat Geo WILD. Additionally, Mr. Currie provided footage and consulted for the 2011 Hollywood birding movie The Big Year, starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.


Mr. Currie has contributed to several publications, including the Southern African Birdfinder, and he was a contributing author of the acclaimed book The Last Elephants. His book, When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer, details his life as a wildlife guide in Africa.


In 2007, Mr. Currie immigrated to the United States with his American wife and three children, and he currently resides in West Palm Beach, Florida.


Mr. Currie’s other Great Course is The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America

By This Expert

The Great Tours: African Safari
The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America
The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America


Birding Basics: Bird Origins and Taxonomy

01: Birding Basics: Bird Origins and Taxonomy

Begin by delving into the history of birdwatching in the U.S., from the early naturalists of the 18th century to today's highly organized activity. Then look into the origins of birds, and how they are linked evolutionarily to dinosaurs and early reptiles. Finally, explore bird taxonomy, and how their scientific classification aids us in identifying them in the field....

31 min
Basic Bird Anatomy

02: Basic Bird Anatomy

Investigate the anatomy of birds, and how understanding anatomical features aids us in identification. Then learn about the fascinating range of bird feathers, and their different functions. Observe how understanding the flight patterns of birds helps identify them in the field. Last, compare two common birds, as an exercise in using the knowledge you've learned so far....

30 min
Size, Shape, and Color as Birding Tools

03: Size, Shape, and Color as Birding Tools

Look first at three physical tools that you can use right away to become a more effective birder. Consider how familiarity with the shape or silhouette of bird families, as well as bird size, aid you in focusing in on exact species. Study the color factors of pigment and keratin, as they produce the dazzling range of bird coloration, and investigate color as an identification tool....

30 min
Bird Distribution, Status, and Endemism

04: Bird Distribution, Status, and Endemism

Take account of three further aids for bird identification. See how charting birds' distribution or geographical range provides much useful information about specific species. Grasp the benefits of knowing a bird's status, or abundance vs. rarity, and how status can change. Also study the factor of endemism, where birds are limited to one specific region, and the uses of this information....

32 min
Habitat and Season as Birding Tools

05: Habitat and Season as Birding Tools

Explore the North American habitats of forest, grasslands, desert, sagebrush, chaparral, and tundra, distinguishing their specific features and the amazing birds that are native to each of these environments. Add to this knowledge by investigating the roles of habitat specialization, the seasons, and migration patterns as they help us in identifying bird species....

31 min
Introduction to Birding Optics

06: Introduction to Birding Optics

This lecture discusses the core optical tools that aid us in observing birds in the field. Study the parts of a pair of binoculars, and the pros and cons of different types of binoculars. Learn how to use binoculars for birding, highlighting matters such as magnification, field of view, and depth of field. Also take account of spotting scopes, and how they provide detail that binoculars can't....

30 min
Tactics for Better Birding

07: Tactics for Better Birding

Today, review a range of methods for attracting birds, in the field and at home. In both places, consider the use of stealth and concealment techniques, for observing while remaining unobserved. Study the remarkable ability of sounds to attract birds, and the use of water, plants, and feeders in your yard. Also learn about important ways to record your observations....

30 min
Using Bird Behavior to Identify Birds

08: Using Bird Behavior to Identify Birds

Look into six categories of bird behavior, as they provide vital information for identification. See how individual species are distinguished by typical or unique behavioral traits. Study the distinctive feeding habits of many species, and how we can recognize species from flight and flocking behavior. End by exploring the extraordinary mating and nesting customs of North American birds....

31 min
Understanding Variations in Plumage

09: Understanding Variations in Plumage

Plumage variation in a single bird reveals much useful information. First, take account of plumage differences based on sex, and seasonal plumage changes. Then investigate the remarkable range of age-related plumage variation in birds. Learn how birds molt (shed and replace plumage), and how hybrid species, as well as genetic and environmental factors, pose challenges for identification....

29 min
Birding by Ear

10: Birding by Ear

Study the physics and biology of avian sounds, which underlie the rich range of birdsong heard in the field. Discover how birds learn to vocalize, and how bird songs and calls are used for a remarkable spectrum of communication. Look at mimicry in birds, ways to use recordings to attract birds, and how digital technology can teach us more about bird vocalization....

31 min
Essentials of Bird Migration

11: Essentials of Bird Migration

Migration seasons provide excellent opportunities to sight unfamiliar bird species. Here, uncover the evolutionary origins of migration, and why birds migrate. Study the triggers and geographical patterns of migration, and the four principal "flyways" (migration zones) of North America. Learn how to maximize your sightings of migrating birds, and how technology can aid this....

30 min
Birding at Night

12: Birding at Night

Some additional birding skills are needed for night viewing of birds. Learn about equipment for night birding, ways of locating nocturnal birds, and approaches to viewing migrating birds at night. Then investigate the fascinating range of night birds, encompassing the great diversity of owls, as well as species such as night-herons, nighthawks, and nightjars....

30 min
Pelagic Birding

13: Pelagic Birding

Open sea birding adds another exciting dimension to birdwatching. Begin with an introduction to sea trips for birding, covering types of excursions and vessels, equipment, and important logistical and safety information. Preview the remarkable birds you'll see, from the mysterious albatross to petrels, tropicbirds, pelicans, gulls, puffins, and the best places to embark from to see them....

29 min
Waterbirds, Shorebirds, and Game Birds

14: Waterbirds, Shorebirds, and Game Birds

In the first of six lectures on the bird families of North America, study four groups of birds that most people will find close to home. Begin with waterfowl, birds that swim in fresh water or near the ocean shore. Continue with wading birds, with their distinct physical profile; shorebirds, a vast group which includes sandpipers; and upland game birds....

33 min
Diurnal Raptors

15: Diurnal Raptors

Now travel into the world of these iconic and alluring birds of prey, and their distinguishing features, ranges, and behaviors. Learn about New World vultures, including the magnificent California condor. Also encounter the osprey, kites, eagles, hawks, falcons, kestrels, and the crested caracara. Consider the challenges of raptor-watching, and their unusual history with humans....

33 min
From Doves to Kingfishers

16: From Doves to Kingfishers

Here, study several diverse groups of birds, ranging from the familiar to the exotic. Explore the surprising variety of pigeons and doves, and trace the sad demise of the passenger pigeon. Note the presence of "introduced" parrots in the U.S., and discover the range of cuckoos, anis, woodpeckers, trogons, swifts, hummingbirds, and kingfishers that flourish across North America....

32 min
Passerines: From Flycatchers to Thrushes

17: Passerines: From Flycatchers to Thrushes

Begin to uncover the huge spectrum of Passerines (perching or songbirds). Start with the flycatchers, aerialists adept at catching insects in midair, and the shrikes, rare songbirds with a raptor lifestyle. Within this far-ranging lecture, encounter bird families such as the crows and jays, magpies, larks, swallows, chickadees, wrens, dippers (the only aquatic songbirds), and thrushes....

32 min
Passerines: From Thrashers to Warblers

18: Passerines: From Thrashers to Warblers

Continue with the astonishing variety of North American songbirds. Learn about birds that mimic, the mockingbirds and catbird, and the thrashers, with their namesake feeding behavior. Track the striking bulbuls, the starlings, pipits, wagtails, waxwings, longspurs, and snow buntings, and finish with the vast array of warbler species, and the challenges they pose to identification....

31 min
Passerines: From Tanagers to Finches

19: Passerines: From Tanagers to Finches

Today, complete your review of the Passerines (songbirds). Beginning with the seed-eating towhees, explore the many varieties of New World sparrows, the juncos, and Old World buntings. Then study the tanagers, cardinals, dickcissels, grosbeaks, and vivid New World buntings, before concluding with families such as the meadowlarks, blackbirds, grackles, orioles, finches, and crossbills....

32 min
Photography for Birders

20: Photography for Birders

Lay a foundation for fine bird photography, starting with the basics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO (light sensitivity), and focus. Investigate the use of natural light at different times of the day, and the best equipment for photographing birds. Learn how to approach birds and capture them on camera, and consider the advantages of digiscoping (photography through a spotting scope)....

30 min
Birding Sites in Eastern North America

21: Birding Sites in Eastern North America

Learn about eleven of the best birding destinations in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. Among them, pay visits to Maine's Monnegan Island, a stopping place for a huge variety of migrants; Cape May, New Jersey, a locus of great birding sites and a haunt of famed birders; and Ohio's Magee Marsh, a legendary birding spot which hosts 338 bird species....

32 min
Birding Sites in Western North America

22: Birding Sites in Western North America

Among twelve top Western birding sites, visit the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, nesting site of forty million seabirds; California's Point Reyes National Seashore, which hosts a massive 490 species; the Grand Canyon, a Globally Important Bird Area; and a Texas park that sees a million migrating raptors each fall....

33 min
Birds and People

23: Birds and People

Contemplate the deep and long-term interactions between birds and humans. Beginning in ancient times, explore the roles birds have played in diverse civilizations, and how birds have benefited people in ways ranging from hunting to pest control. In today's world, take account of citizen science efforts, bird banding, and other ways birders can contribute to scientific knowledge....

29 min
Birding Ethics and Conservation

24: Birding Ethics and Conservation

Consider guidelines for ethical birding, based in respect for fellow birders and non-birders alike. Conclude with a far-reaching look at matters affecting bird welfare, at both the individual and species level. Review current environmental factors that endanger birds, and actions you can take, both individually and through organizations, to safeguard our precious bird species....

40 min