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

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an ornithologist who studies the myriad ways in which we affect birds and they, in turn, affect us. I’ve conducted field research for over four decades, focusing mainly on the behavior, ecology, and evolution of corvids—crows, ravens, jays, and their relatives. Through these birds I’ve discovered how our settlements, agriculture, and recreation play into their hands, often to the detriment of less adaptable species. As a professor of wildlife science for 25 years, I’ve mentored many graduate and undergraduate students and written hundreds of technical articles. In my writing for popular audiences I aim to celebrate the successful birds that share our world and raise awareness of those we are driving toward extinction.


I wrote...

Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans

By John M. Marzluff, Tony Angell,

Book cover of Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans

What is my book about?

Crows are mischievous, playful, social, and passionate. They mate for life and associate with relatives and neighbors for years. And because they often live near people—in our gardens, parks, and cities—they are also keenly aware of our peculiarities, staying away from and even scolding anyone who threatens or harms them and quickly learning to recognize and approach those who care for and feed them, even giving them numerous, oddly touching gifts in return. The ongoing connection between humans and crows—a cultural co-evolution—has shaped both species for millions of years.

With his extraordinary research on the intelligence and behavior of corvids—crows, ravens, and jays—scientist John Marzluff tells amazing stories of these brilliant birds in Gifts of the Crow. Teamed with artist and fellow naturalist Tony Angell, they offer an in-depth look at these complex creatures and our shared behaviors, illustrated with gorgeous line drawings.

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The books I picked & why

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

John M. Marzluff Why did I love 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.

By Niko Tinbergen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Herring Gull's World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hardcover - 1953 - First Edition (no other editions listed) Green boards are square with sharp corners, little or no wear, binding is tight. Text block has some foxing as do some of the pages but does not interfer with the text. No dust jacket.


Book cover of Bumblebee Economics

John M. Marzluff Why did I love 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.

By Bernd Heinrich,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bumblebee Economics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is a brilliant introduction to insect and plant ecology focusing on one of nature's most adaptive creatures, the bumblebee. Survival for the bumblebee depends on its ability to regulate body temperature through a complex energy exchange, and it is this management of energy resources around which Bernd Heinrich enters his discussion of physiology, behavior, and ecological interaction. Along the way, he makes some amusing parallels with the theories of Adam Smith-which, Heinrich observes, work rather well for the bees, however inadequate they may be for human needs.

Bumblebee Economics uniquely offers both the professional and amateur scientist a coherent…


Book cover of King Solomon's Ring

John M. Marzluff Why did I love 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.

By Konrad Lorenz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked King Solomon's Ring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Solomon, the legend goes, had a magic ring which enabled him to speak to the animals in their own language. Konrad Lorenz was gifted with a similar power of understanding the animal world. He was that rare beast, a brilliant scientist who could write (and indeed draw) beautifully. He did more than any other person to establish and popularize the study of how animals behave, receiving a Nobel Prize for his work. King Solomon's Ring, the book which brought him worldwide recognition, is a delightful treasury of observations and insights into the lives of all sorts of creatures, from jackdaws…


Book cover of Cry of the Kalahari

John M. Marzluff Why did I love 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.  

By Mark Owens, Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Cry of the Kalahari as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The incredible memoir by international bestselling author of Where The Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens and her then partner Mark Owens', charting their time researching wildlife in the Kalahari Desert. Reissued and in full colour, for the first time since its original publication.

In the early 1970s, carrying little more than a change of clothes and a pair of binoculars, Mark and Delia Owens caught a plane to Africa, bought a third-hand Land Rover, and drove deep into the Kalahari Desert. There they lived for seven years, in an unexplored area with no roads, no people, and no source of water…


Book cover of In the Shadow of Man

John M. Marzluff Why did I love 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.

By Jane Goodall,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In the Shadow of Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of history's most impressive field studies; an instant animal classic' TIME

Jane Goodall's classic account of primate research provides an impressively detailed and absorbing account of the early years of her field study of, and adventures with, chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa. It is a landmark for everyone to enjoy.


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A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…


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