Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist • 50(2): December 2018


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


The North American Duck, Geese & Swans: Identification Guide, released in 2018, is the culmination of a lifetime of waterfowl photography by the late Frank Todd. Indeed, this book stands apart from other identification guides as being entirely photo-driven, with minimal introductory material, notations of field marks, or descriptions of the various waterfowl species. It is small enough to be carried in the field (6.5” × 9” × 0.5”), but most readers will find it less useful than a standard bird identification book (Sibley 2014), even for waterfowl. As the title suggests, the Todd guide focuses on North American species, but also includes an opportunistic sample of some vagrants. The sheer number of photographs is impressive (even overwhelming at times), and this guide would make a colorful addition to the libraries of amateur waterfowl enthusiasts across North America.

The book format is straightforward: each group of birds (e.g., dabbling ducks, sea ducks) begins with a conversational paragraph that provides an entry-level description of basic life history and behavior. Within taxonomic groupings, each species that follows is allotted 1–3 pages with a small range map, one line of morphological measurements, four bullet points of identification tips, and an estimated North American population size that sometimes includes worldwide estimates. The overwhelming majority of each species account is composed of 5–45 photos of the bird in question. Interestingly, the photos themselves have been clipped to silhouettes in photo-editing software, i.e., ducks are “floating” on a monochromatic page rather than swimming on the water or flying through the air as they were in the original photograph. This cropping method is similar to that used in the Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl, but Crossley et al. (2017) set collages of clipped photographs into a realistic photo backdrop to highlight the habitat in which species are commonly observed.