The best books for understanding and appreciating birds

Who am I?

I started watching animals as soon as I could walk. That eventually led to a PhD in animal behavior and a career in animal protection. I now focus my energies on writing books that seek to improve our understanding of, and most importantly our relations with, other animals. I've written four previous books: Pleasurable Kingdom, Second Nature, The Exultant Ark, and What a Fish Knows (a New York Times best-seller now available in fifteen languages). I live in Belleville, Ontario where I enjoy biking, baking, birding, Bach, and trying to understand the neighborhood squirrels.


I wrote...

Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World's Most Successful Insects

By Jonathan Balcombe,

Book cover of Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World's Most Successful Insects

What is my book about?

For most of us, the only thing we know about flies is that they're annoying, and our usual reaction is to try to kill them. In Super Fly, the myth-busting biologist Jonathan Balcombe shows the order Diptera in all of its diversity, illustrating the essential role that flies play in every ecosystem in the world as pollinators, waste-disposers, predators, and food source; and how flies continue to reshape our understanding of evolution. Along the way, he reintroduces us to familiar foes like the fruit fly and mosquito, and gives us the chance to meet their lesser-known cousins like the Petroleum Fly (the only animal in the world that breeds in crude oil) and the Chocolate Midge (the sole pollinator of the Cacao tree). No matter your outlook on our tiny buzzing neighbors, Super Fly will change the way you look at flies forever.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Human Nature of Birds: A Scientific Discovery with Startling Implications

Jonathan Balcombe Why did I love this book?

Yes, it’s a bit dated, but it was a bold, pioneering book for its day. Barber doesn’t shrink from describing birds as they are: intelligent, flexible, emotional animals with lives and personalities.

By Theodore Xenophon Barber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Human Nature of Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Argues that birds make and use their own tools, recognize abstract concepts, create complex musical compositions, and more


Book cover of The Sibley Guide to Birds

Jonathan Balcombe Why did I love this book?

This beautifully illustrated, comprehensive book is a must-have for bird enthusiasts. It is not only a useful guide to identifying birds, but also an illuminating source on little-known aspects of bird behavior.

By David Allen Sibley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sibley Guide to Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Undoubtedly the finest guide to North American birds.”—Guy McCaskie, Birding


The publication of The Sibley Guide to Birds, First Edition quickly established David Allen Sibley as the author and illustrator of the nation’s supreme and most comprehensive guide to birds. Used by millions of birders from novices to the most expert, The Sibley Guide became the standard by which natural history guides are measured. The highly anticipated second edition builds on this foundation of excellence, offering massively expanded and updated information, new paintings, new and rare species, and a new, elegant design.


The second edition of this handsome, flexibound volume…


Book cover of Birds as Individuals

Jonathan Balcombe Why did I love this book?

A British musicologist opens the windows to her country home and lets wild birds come in and nest there. This unique study allows her (and us) to observe these feathered sprites up close and personal. Many befriend their human hostess, with remarkable revelations.

By Len Howard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Birds as Individuals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Birdology: Adventures with Hip Hop Parrots, Cantankerous Cassowaries, Crabby Crows, Peripatetic Pigeons, Hens, Hawks, and Hummingbirds

Jonathan Balcombe Why did I love this book?

True to form, Montgomery advances our understanding of birds through stories and adventures from the field. An accessible book from a celebrated writer whose love of animals is infectious.

By Sy Montgomery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Birdology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......


Book cover of Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds

Jonathan Balcombe Why did I love this book?

An electrician and his wife rescue an orphaned baby house sparrow and raise him into adulthood and beyond. This beautifully and at times hilariously told story is full of precious revelations about the rich personality of a bird routinely overlooked by us.

By Chris Chester,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Providence of a Sparrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” --William Shakespeare, Hamlet

B fell twenty-five feet from his nest into the life of Chris Chester. The encounter was providential for both of them.
B and Chester spent hours together playing games like bottle-cap fetch or hide-and-seek. They learned “words” in each other’s vocabularies. B developed a fetish for nostrils and a dislike of the color yellow. He grew anxious if Chester came home late from work. At bedtime he would rub his sleepy eyes on Chester’s thumb and settle to sleep in his palm. Chester ended up turning part…


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Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

Book cover of Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

Martha Marks Author Of Rubies of the Viper

New book alert!

Who am I?

I made my first visit to Pompeii at age seven. That day, I told my parents that I had been there before. It was all very familiar. And that sense of déjà vu has never left me. I feel it whenever I go back to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Roman Forum. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but... As an adult, I’ve returned many times to those places and visited others featured in my books: the Etruscan necropolis at Caere, which was already 1,000 years old at the time of my novels; Athens; and the ancient ports of Piraeus in Greece and Itanos in Crete. I earned a Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught for many years, and enjoyed a million marvelous experiences, but my lifelong love of ancient Rome is the direct result of that long-ago visit to Pompeii with my parents.

Martha's book list on the Roman Empire in 1st Century AD

What is my book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. But, as gamblers in love, they rolled the dice. And then they worked hard, took risks, caught lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the lottery of life. Over four decades, Lady Luck smiled on them, until one day, she didn’t. Out of the blue, Fortune spun her wheel and taught them that no one is immune to tragedy and heartbreak.

Betting on Bernie is Martha Marks’s memoir of their improbable courtship, happy and prosperous marriage, and not-so-golden “golden years.” It will make you think, wonder, laugh, and cry.

Betting on Bernie: A Memoir of A Marriage

By Martha Marks,

What is this book about?

Bernard Marks and Martha Alford met by chance. No real reason for it, just a series of fluky coincidences. The odds were long that they would hit it off. That wasn’t in the cards they’d been dealt at birth. “It’ll never last,” people whispered after they got engaged. “Poor probability of success” was the general consensus when they married. But Bernie and Martha ignored the naysayers. Gamblers in love, they rolled the dice.

And then they worked hard, took even more risks, caught a few lucky breaks, built satisfying careers, enjoyed terrific travels, and won their own version of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in birds, anthropomorphism, and William Shakespeare?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about birds, anthropomorphism, and William Shakespeare.

Birds Explore 162 books about birds
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