The best books about wild animals written by the scientists that study them

John M. Marzluff Author Of Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans
By John M. Marzluff

The Books I Picked & Why

The Herring Gull's World: Study of the Social Behaviour of Birds

By Niko Tinbergen

Book cover of The Herring Gull's World: Study of the Social Behaviour of Birds

Why this book?

We often fail to appreciate the most common birds among us. In contrast, Nobel Laureate Niko Tinbergen celebrates the life of a common beach denizen in this classic book. Tinbergen wrote this book in the 1950s based on his detailed observations of the gulls in their natural habitats. As I read, I am taken to the dunes of the Netherlands where Niko spent his life. I can hear the cries of the gulls as they greet their mates, defend their turf, and raise their young. Tinbergen’s life of observing and experimenting is laid before me as he describes the postures and calls that form the gulls’ communication system. I come away from my read knowing a lot about gulls and even more about a brilliant scientist’s mind.


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Bumblebee Economics

By Bernd Heinrich

Book cover of Bumblebee Economics

Why this book?

I first read this book as a graduate student and it gave me a new appreciation for insects. Heinrich wowed me by describing his discovery of a hot-blooded insect. Bumblebees can increase their body temperatures by shivering and in this way live in our coldest climates. They heat up to fly in search of nectar which they bring back to their nest of developing bees. They even hibernate and survive the winter in cold regions such as Heinrich’s backyard study area in Maine. This book so influenced me that I eventually studied with Heinrich, spending three years in his Maine woods following the lives of ravens with my wife, Colleen.


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King Solomon's Ring

By Konrad Lorenz

Book cover of King Solomon's Ring

Why this book?

Lorenz shared the 1973 Nobel Prize with Niko Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch for elevating the study of animal behavior. I love this book because, while Lorenz often writes densely about theory, here he lets us in on his intimate relationships with geese, ravens, jackdaws, dogs, and other animals. By raising and living with all manner of beasts, they become like Lorenz’s family. This deep familiarity enables Lorenz to explore their world as a partner and relate to us an understanding as if speaking with the animal itself.


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Cry of the Kalahari

By Mark Owens, Delia Owens

Book cover of Cry of the Kalahari

Why this book?

If you are longing for an African safari, this book is for you. The Owens’ are a young couple conducting their graduate research in the deserts of Botswana. In reading, you are in the field with them, waking to the roars of lions, drifting to sleep as hyenas yowl, and experiencing the daily grind, danger, and thrill of field research. I love this book because it is so real. It allows me to see the animals the Owens study—mostly lions and hyenasthrough their eyes and in so doing not only appreciate their wonderful biology but also learn what it takes for a young scientist to understand them.  


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In the Shadow of Man

By Jane Goodall

Book cover of In the Shadow of Man

Why this book?

No person knows chimpanzees, and has been able to evoke human compassion for them, like Jane Goodall. This book is her personal account of her first studies of the chimps in Gombe. What I most like about this book is Goodall’s ability to show us the various personalities of her study subjects. She names them and we come to appreciate them as individuals. We see ourselves in her descriptions of their antics—some bullish, others injured, some young, others old. Goodall writes with enthusiasm for science, discovery, and the behavior of animals as she also relates to us the challenges for a young woman in science.


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