A Guide to Field Identification: Birds of North America, by Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim. Illustrated by Arthur Singer. Racine , Wis.: Golden Press/Western Publishing Company. 360 pp. $7.95 paperback. The Audubon Society Master Guide to Birding: 1 - Loons to Sandpipers, 2 - Gulls to Dippers, 3 - Old World Warblers to Sparrows, edited by John Farrand Jr. New York: Alfred J. Knopf. Vol. 1, 447 pp.; Vol. 2, 397 pp.; Vol. 3, 399 pp. $13.95 per volume, paperback. Seabirds: An Identification Guide, by Peter Harrison. Illustrated by the author. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 448 pp. $29.95.
Birds of the World, by Oliver L. Austin Jr. Illustrated by Arthur Singer. Edited by Herbert S. Zim. Racine, Wis.: Golden Press/Western Publishing Company. 318 pp. $24.95.
America's Favorite Backyard Birds, by Kit and George Harrison. New York: Simon & Schuster. 288 pp. $15.95.
Garden Birds of the World, by Michael Chinery. Illustrated by Maurice Pledger. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 108 pp. $19.95.
''I like the idea of flying. I love just the sheer aesthetics of the birds, how beautiful they are and how wonderfully complex their behavior is and how much fun it is to watch them,'' says Jon Latimer, who could be speaking for all birders.
Mr. Latimer is the Golden Press publisher responsible for The Birds of North America, a field guide which he says outsells its nearest competitor 2 to 1. And no wonder.
The book is inexpensive and compact, with color plates of the birds placed next to the relevant information, making it the easiest book to use in the field.
Golden Press has continually updated the guide over the years, but recently the publisher decided now was the time for total revision. ''The American Ornithologists Union has just brought out their new listing'' of North American birds, explains Mr. Latimer. ''The taxonomy has been revised. The American Birding Association has brought out a new revised list of common names. And 'The Birds of North America,' to my knowledge, is the first field guide to take advantage of that new information.''
He adds, ''I'm sure you know that birds have a disturbing way of moving around, so that virtually all the (range) maps in the book - there are 600 and some-odd maps - were redone. There are about 10 new plates, and a lot of the plates were reworked by Arthur Singer (the original illustrator) to account for new knowledge or new information that's come to pass on the birds.''
As a result, there are about 20 pages of additional information. The book still has its unique sonagrams, which are graphic notation of birdsong.
Birders will be delighted to know that the revised book is now sewn, not just glued together, and comes with a stronger cover. Presumably it will no longer fall apart in one's hands at the crucial moment.
The National Audubon Society's new three-volume Master Guide to Birding should be much more useful than the society's previous ''Field Guide to North American Birds,'' which came in two volumes that were simply too awkward to use in the field.
Now one doesn't have to flip back and forth between the excellent photographs of the birds in the front of each book and the text in the back. The new books put all the relevant information together.
A boon to marine birders is Seabirds, by Peter Harrison. Sea birds are always on the move and especially difficult to see clearly from the unstable vantage point of a boat deck. And there has been no handy reference book to help you figure out what that was that just whizzed by.
Another big problem with identifying sea birds is that many change plumage patterns year by year, until they are fully adult. Mr. Harrison has gone through the agony of sorting out for us the changes during his 11 years of voyaging, writing, and painting.
The book has good maps. A small section on ''bare parts'' tells how to identify some sea birds by bill, leg color, and feet, as well as by plumage.
It's a moderately heavy hardback - larger than the usual field guide, but presumably that is no problem on board ship.
For birders with more general interests, Golden Press has just reissued Birds of the World, first published many years ago by Hamlyn in Britain and out of print for some time.
Mr. Latimer can't resist extolling this classic. '' 'Birds of the World' does something unusual compared to other books: . . . it treats all the birds of the world in a family-by-family treatment, one after another.'' He gets excited about Oliver Austin's writing, which he says ''makes the birds very, very interesting, and is great fun to read.'' He also raves about the illustrations. ''I think Arthur's art is as good as any currently being made by any bird artist that I know of.''
Mr. Singer, by the way, did the phenomenally successful bird stamps now used by the US Postal Service.
Mr. Latimer notes that many birders got their starts with ''Birds of the World,''and he adds that ''it was a terrible thing to keep these illustrations out of people's hands.''
The new edition is slightly smaller than the old one, and printed on stronger paper. The illustrations look brighter, most likely because of technical improvements in the printing.
The wealth of bird lore and the attractiveness of the pictures make this ''intrinsically interesting book,'' as Mr. Latimer calls it, well worth owning.
But there are other bird books aimed at the general reader which also deserve consideration. One of these is America's Favorite Backyard Birds. This book suffers from the fact that three of the ten major birds discussed range only through the eastern or northern half of the United States. They are favorites, all right, but to be seen throughout the country. Yet the information is interesting and should help people understand their avian neighbors better.
Another book for homebodies, Garden Birds of the World, has some lovely illustrations. Artist Maurice Pledger, though, has chosen birds common only to British and European gardens. The title is a bit of a misnomer, even taking into account the birds' migrations, but that does not detract from the pleasure of the book.
Urbanites might enjoy Jon Latimer's comments on birds in the city. He talks about some finches that nest every year in trees in front of his New York City apartment house: ''Cars go by, and people bang the trash cans at four in the morning, and others honk their horns, and every year these birds raise another brood! I find that astonishing, and I find it terribly compelling at the same time. I'm grateful to hear these little things chirping up there in the trees when I go out in the morning. It tends to soften the urban experience.''