The best books about birds and ourselves

The Books I Picked & Why

Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature

By Nick Davies

Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature

Why this book?

Nick Davies and I conducted our PhDs at the same time, his on how birds forage, mine on guillemot (murre) behavior. Nick went on to spend several decades studying cuckoos, stepping in Darwin’s footsteps to unravel the array of wonderful adaptations that allow brood parasites, like cuckoos, to thrive. His Cuckoo is an emotive, engaging, and accessible account of that painstaking and ingenious research and a model of popular science writing.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

By Jeremy Mynott

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

Why this book?

The history of ornithology is an extraordinarily rich topic and one full of interest and rewards. This book is a celebration of the beginnings of our ornithological knowledge. A classics scholar and ornithologist, Jeremy Mynott has translated all the numerous texts here himself, and in so doing providing a consistent, knowledgeable, highly readable text. One of the things that comes across so vividly in this book is how much of our knowledge about birds — including, for example, the fact that young birds, like the nightingale, acquire their song by listening to their father — were so well established so long ago! 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers

By Adam Nicolson

The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers

Why this book?

A seabird colony throbs like a beating heart. In the air, on the water, and on the cliffs or grassy slopes, you can sense the push and pull of the birds. I have studied common guillemots [known as common murres in North America] at one such colony — Skomer Island, Wales — each year for almost fifty years. I live and breathe seabirds, and no one has captured the wonder and remarkable biology of this specialized group of birds like Adam Nicolson. This beautifully written book is also a cry for help for seabirds whose populations have more than halved in the last seventy years.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World

By Philip Hoare

Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World

Why this book?

There are not many books where after reaching the end, I turn back to the beginning and start again. But this book is so fertile, so rich, so engaging, I simply couldn’t take in all of its wonderful richness in one go. Dürer has always been my artistic hero. Known for his portraits, of himself and others, I like the fact that he painted birds too, like his exquisitely observed European roller (both the whole bird and the separate wing). Philip Hoare’s sparkling text brings both Dürer and his birds to life.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The End of the End of the Earth: Essays

By Jonathan Franzen

The End of the End of the Earth: Essays

Why this book?

Compared with many of those writing about bird conservation, using his sabre-like pen, Jonathan Franzen, gets to the very heart of the issues. No one else comes close to opening up the obscene bloody thorax of Mediterranean bird-killing. In this set of essays, Franzen is the master surgeon, desperate to diagnose, expose and extract the cancer that permeates this entire region. Several million small migrant birds, such as golden orioles, bee-eaters, and warblers, are shot, trapped, and eaten here each year. These millions are from bird populations across Europe and Africa already decimated by a multitude of other things including climate change, cats, and habitat loss.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists