Seventeen Books About Birds

Seventeen Books About Birds
Suggested by Bird Lovers and Ecologists

If winter’s here, can birds be far behind? As the days lengthen the cold strengthens, my grandmother is said to have said. Nevertheless, we’re heading towards the migration season. So, looking forward, here are seventeen books about birds. This list is collected from various friends and aficionados. It is in alphabetical order. Please feel free to add more!

Cities in the Wilderness: A New Vision of Land Use in America, by Bruce Babbitt. (Island Press, Canada/UK; Shearwater Books, US) Secretary of the interior from 1993 to 2001, Babbitt advocates for a balance between development and conservation — smart growth— so that we retain the ecological functioning of the land.

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. (Seal Books, Canada; Anchor, US; Black Swan, UK) A very funny personal memoir and delightful chronicle of the trail, the people who created it, and the places it passes through.

The Peregrine: The Hill of Summer; & Diaries: The Complete Works of J. A. Baker. Introduction by Mark Cocker & Edited by John Fanshawe. (Harper Collins) Cited as one of the most important books in 20th century nature writing, J.A. Baker meticulously documents a long winter observing peregrines and their surroundings.

The Bedside Book of Birds, by Graeme Gibson. (Doubleday Canada; Bloomsbury, UK; Nan A. Talese, US) Writings and images that celebrate the many ways people have engaged with birds over the centuries.

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, by Bernd Heinrich. (Ecco, Canada; Harper Perennial, US/UK) Heinrich involves the reader in his quest to get inside the mind of the raven. At the heart of this book is Heinrich’s love and respect for these complex and engaging creatures.

Ravens in Winter, by Bernd Heinrich. (Vintage Books) A charming, in-depth study of these very smart and sociable birds.

The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology, by Bernd Heinrich. (Ecco, Canada; Harper Perennial, US/UK) An extraordinary memoir making science accessible and awe-inspiring.

Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds, by Trevor Herriot. (Harper Collins Canada) Herriot draws on twenty years of experience as an observer of nature to reveal the spirit of the grassland world and the uniqueness of its birds, discovering why birds are disappearing and what can be done to save them.

Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World, by Kathleen Jamie. (Gray Wolf Press, Canada/US; Sort Of Books, UK) Explores the value and vulnerability of an ancient yet ever new world now threatened by technology and human carelessness.

A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. (Ballantine Books; Oxford University Press USA) A classic of nature writing, the almanac mixes essay, polemic, and memoir, and elaborates on the basic premise that nothing that disturbs the balance of nature is right.

Birding, or Desire, by Don McKay. (McClelland & Stewart; poetry) A celebration of nature’s abundance and the deep rhythms of family life.

The Sparrowhawk, by Ian Newton. (Harrell Books, Canada; Tarquin, US; Poyser, UK) A detailed account of this often elusive bird of prey and the impact of humans and the environment on the species in recent times.

Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions, by David Quammen (Scribner, Canada/US; Pimlico, UK) Applies the lessons of biogeography to modern ecosystem decay, offering insight into the origin and extinction of species, our relationship to nature, and the future of our world.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, by Janisse Ray. (Milkweed Editions) A blend of memoir and nature study, Ray argues powerfully for the virtues of establishing a connection with one’s native ground.

Portrait Of An Island, by Mildred Teal & John Teal. (University of Georgia Press) Based on the authors’ own four-year stay on the virtually undeveloped Sapelo Island with its unique marine ecology and varied flora and fauna.

Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul. (Fsg Adult, Canada; Henry Holt & Co. Inc., UK; North Point Press, US) Weidensaul examines the miracle of bird migration — that without temperature or hunger as triggers, birds migrate, sometimes more than 5,000 miles in one uninterrupted flight.

The Goshawk, by T.H. White. (New York Review Books Classics) Chronicling the battle of wills between the author and the hawk he is trying to train, this book opens the door into the natural life of the hawk.


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

15 responses to “Seventeen Books About Birds

  1. What a marvelous list. I’m inspired to try the new-to-me reads here; thank you for this list. I might add Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams and Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman. Both carefully wrought, highly readable books seem as much about human nature as about avian ways.

  2. I love Sand County Almanac! I read it a few years ago as I winnowed away the hours of my first off-the-grid winter, alongside Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. On the very top of a mountain in Mendocino County, I was feeling lonely, cold & not especially appreciative of Mother Nature. Leopold helped to remind me of all the reasons I was up there in the first place.

  3. I agree what a great list; I have started with The Bedside Book of Birds, by Graeme Gibson for the myth and folktales. I am swiftly following with Heinrichs Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds because I am working on Ravens right now. Thanks for the list.

  4. mthew

    I’m a tremendous partisan of Baker’s The Peregrine and would have recommended it if you hadn’t beat me to it, so thanks. It’s a fierce, cold book, quite poetic– by which I mean heightened in language and mood — and thus perhaps not for everybody, especially those used to their nature warm, cuddly, and anthropomorphic. Or maybe it is precisely for those people, who could use a good shaking up every once and a while. Baker was writing when DDT had almost exterminated peregrines, and many other raptors, and so wrote as if he was crafting an elegy. Today, I can see peregrines over my Brooklyn, NY, skyline, so I’m glad he was wrong about that (although, of course, our native subspecies was in fact killed off).

  5. Here’s a new photography book recently had published: Enchanted Light, Galapagos and Ecuador, by Dennis Minty ( It’s based on a 10 day expedition in 2010.
    Also one of my favourites is The Birder’s Handbook, A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, by Paul Ehrlich, David Dobkin and Darryl Wheye (Fireside Book, Simon and Schuster Inc.)

  6. Beth Bloodsworth

    I would like to suggest Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s excellent book Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. I’ve only recently discovered her and am now halfway through her other book, Pilgrim On the Great Bird Continent, about Darwin. She’s a gifted and engaging writer. Heinrich and Quammen are also two of my favorite naturalist-writers. Thank you for this list.

  7. Thank you very much for sharing these titles, there are several I can’t wait to get my paws on.

  8. WCO

    Wolfe Island Wind facility bird mortality report just released. Seven red-tailed hawks, one osprey, one northern harrier and one turkey vulture comprised the group of 10 raptors killed by the giant blades.

    The report estimates that 549 birds and 450 bats were killed between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2010. The estimates for the previous six months were 602 and 1,270, respectively.

  9. Rosemarie Cunningham

    What a fine list. It is an old book, but I love The Life of the Hummingbird. Roger Tory Peterson compares this 1973 treatise on the lives of the Central American birds to John James Audubon’s work about North American birds.

  10. May I recommend one more: Olivia Gentile’s Life List. It is a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, a St. Louis birder who, after being diagnosed with cancer, decided to spend her last days birding. But in an unusual twist, she lived well past her medically predicted date with death, and completed a life list of over 8400. birds.

    Good luck with everything!

  11. A wonderful list and I’d like to suggest one more if I may: Last of the Curlews, which is back in print after a lengthy absence. Now into his 90s, and still living in Toronto I believe, Fred Bodsworth wrote a poignant, fictional account of the very last Eskimo curlew back in the 1950s. Though sightings are occasionally reported, it is a bird almost certainly no longer with us, and his book stands as a powerful indictment of the fragile place so many species hold in the world due to human actions. A beautiful book despite this…

    • marg09

      Yes, it must be on the list! Fred is a very old friend. He was a friend of my father’s and also a close friend of Pierre Berton’s. I have known him since I was a child. A great birder and wonderful person.

  12. spikeymom

    It’s not a book about birds but it IS a blog about the birds that inhabit Toronto’s waterfront (specifically Ashbridge’s Bay)
    Beautiful photographs.

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