The best picture books for budding birders

Peggy Thomas Author Of For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson
By Peggy Thomas

Who am I?

I’ve always loved birds, especially the red-winged black birds; their song was the first I learned to recognize as a kid. My first field guide was written by Roger Tory Peterson, and through that book and many others I’ve learned about the amazing world around us. Now, as a children’s nonfiction author, I get to share similar stories with young readers through my books and at school presentations. And as a writing instructor, I collect well-crafted and well-researched nonfiction, and use them to encourage budding children’s writers at workshops, in blog posts for the Nonfiction Ninjas, and as co-host of the annual Nonfiction Fest that celebrates true stories for children.


I wrote...

For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson

By Peggy Thomas, Laura Jacques (illustrator),

Book cover of For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson

What is my book about?

Some kids called him “Professor Nuts Peterson,” but Roger didn’t care. He was all about the birds. He watched birds. He drew birds. He hung over cliffs to photograph birds. And when he created his first Peterson Field Guide, Roger inspired millions of people to become bird watchers, too.  

Working closely with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, Thomas and Jacques have created the first children’s biography of the world-famous naturalist who revolutionized the way we look at, study, and appreciate animals, plants, and birds.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist

By Margarita Engle, Aliona Bereghici (illustrator),

Book cover of The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist

Why this book?

I was thrilled to find Sky Painter, because it’s about Louis Agassiz Fuertes, the famous painter mentioned in my book, who once gave Roger Tory Peterson a paintbrush. I’d always wanted to know more about the man who inspired Roger, and author Margarita Engle does a wonderful job capturing the painter’s curiosity, compassion, and dedication to birds.  

Like Roger, Louis was always bringing home wildlife. He kept baby birds on the porch, and sketched an owl in the kitchen. And like Roger, Louis painted in the bathroom. Roger did it because of the light. Louis did it because his model, a loon, was swimming in the bathtub!

If you love birds, you’ll certainly find a kindred spirit in Sky Painter


The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon

By Melissa Sweet,

Book cover of The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon

Why this book?

Before Roger Tory Peterson, there was Louis. Before Louis, there was John James Audubon – another amazing wildlife artist. But what makes this picture book biography different is that the author Jacqueline Davies shows how John J. solved a century’s old mystery – Where do birds go in winter?

Intensely curious, John J. decided to tie a tiny piece of wire around a bird’s leg. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened next, but I think you’ll agree that John’s simple experiment was one of the biggest innovations in ornithology. Beautifully written and illustrated, this book is one to add to your life list.  


Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends

By Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Clover Robin (illustrator),

Book cover of Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends

Why this book?

Believe it or not, a long time ago hunters would go out on Christmas day and shoot as many birds as they could. I know! What an awful tradition! Yikes! Fortunately, Frank Chapman thought it was awful, too. This book shows how he campaigned for bird lovers to count birds rather than shoot them. 

Today, millions of people participate in the Christmas Bird Count. Their data helps scientists keep track of bird populations. The best part is that anyone can participate. Counting Birds reminds us that one person really can make a difference.


Finding a Dove for Gramps

By Lisa J. Amstutz, Maria Luisa Di Gravio (illustrator),

Book cover of Finding a Dove for Gramps

Why this book?

This is a fictional story about a boy searching for his Gramps’s favorite bird during the Christmas Bird Count. 

I’m sure there are many young readers who don’t think they know enough to participate in something so grand as the Christmas Bird Count. But I’m confident that this book will reassure them that they know more than they think as they confidently identify the birds deftly illustrated by Maria Luisa Di Gravio. Lisa Amstutz, the author, has also included in the backmatter a birding checklist to get little bird nerds started. I think this story will inspire a lot of families to start their own birding tradition.


Feathers: Not Just for Flying

By Melissa Stewart, Sarah S. Brannen (illustrator),

Book cover of Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Why this book?

For this recommendation, I’ve chosen something different. 

Every bird nerd should know the bird basics, and Melissa Stewart’s book on feathers is the perfect place to begin. You’re sure to learn something new. I did. I had no idea that feathers came in so many different shapes and sizes. You might be surprised, too, to discover all the things feathers can do. I won’t give them all away, but some are used for warmth, and others for floating! 

Bird lovers will also appreciate the illustrations by Sarah Brannen, which resemble a naturalist’s sketchbook. They may even inspire you to create one of your own.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in birds, birdwatching, and counting?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about birds, birdwatching, and counting.

Birds Explore 121 books about birds
Birdwatching Explore 26 books about birdwatching
Counting Explore 17 books about counting

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Beaks!, Look Up!, and An Egg Is Quiet if you like this list.