The best birdwatching books

8 authors have picked their favorite books about birdwatching and why they recommend each book.

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The Big Year

By Mark Obmascik,

Book cover of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

If you saw the disappointing-at-best 2011 film based very loosely on this book, don’t let it color your opinion; if you haven’t seen it, buy the book instead. It follows three birders as they traverse North America during 1998’s “big year,” an informal, self-reported 365-day competition in which bird-spotting junkies chase down as many species as they can. It’s an engrossing peek into a fascinating, quirky subculture that will sweep you along on an irresistible armchair roadtrip-with-a-purpose.

Who am I?

I never had a particular interest in birds until I heard about David Wingate and the cahow; I’m just a reporter who was smitten by a compelling story. I often write about science and the environment, as well as travel and other topics, for publications including the Boston Globe, Archaeology, and Harvard Medicine, and while working on Rare Birds I got hooked on these extraordinary creatures and the iconoclastic obsessives who have become their stewards in the Anthropocene era. You don’t have to care about birds to love their stories — but in the end, you will.

I wrote...

Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction

By Elizabeth Gehrman,

Book cover of Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction

What is my book about?

Rare Birds is a tale of obsession, of hope, of fighting for redemption against incredible odds. For more than 300 years the cahow, or Bermuda petrel, was believed extinct, but by the early 1900s, tantalizing hints of the birds’ continued existence began to emerge, and in 1951, two naturalists mounted a last-ditch effort to find them, bringing 15-year-old David Wingate along for the ride. When the stunned scientists pulled a blinking, docile cahow from deep within a rocky cliffside, it made headlines around the world—and showed Wingate what he was put on Earth to do.
Starting with just seven nesting pairs of the birds, Wingate devoted his life to giving the cahows the chance they needed in their centuries-long struggle for survival, battling hurricanes, invasive species, DDT, the American military, and personal tragedy along the way. It took six decades of ardent dedication, but Wingate has seen his dream fulfilled as the birds have reached the 100-pair mark and returned to Nonsuch, an island habitat he hand-restored for them, plant by plant, in anticipation of this day. His story is an inspiring celebration of the resilience of nature, the power of persistence, and the value of going your own way.

How to Find a Bird

By Jennifer Ward, Diana Sudyka (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Find a Bird

Both Jennifer Ward and Diana Sudyka are two of my favorite kid lit creators, and this brilliant collaboration begs to be read aloud. Ward’s lyrical text sings as an introductory guide for the littlest bird watchers, showing them where to look for birds: up to see them fly and roost—but not just up—down on the ground where birds nest, straight ahead where they blend with bark, on and under the water. And if you put out a birdfeeder, all you need is a window-view. But what’s the best way to find a bird? To listen—birdsong is all around us! Sudyka’s gorgeously intricate art paints the avian details of all the found birds. Don’t miss the back matter for bird-watching tips.

Who am I?

I may not be an expert ornithologist, but I am an avid “birdologist” to borrow a term from Sy Montgomery—one who is awed and fascinated by all things bird. Bird-watching is meditative—it helps me to be present and to feel joyful. I love reading, learning, and writing about birds too! I am the author of these bird books: Hawk Rising, illustrated by Brian Floca, Whoo-Ku Haiku, illustrated by Jonathan Voss, and the forthcoming You and the Bowerbird, illustrated by Maris Wicks. I love writing about the natural world and its inhabitants as well as dogs—another love of mine!

I wrote...

Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story

By Maria Gianferrari, Jonathan Voss (illustrator),

Book cover of Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story

What is my book about?

In stunning haiku and dazzling illustration, this thrilling nonfiction picture book showcases the fierce majesty of one of North America's most beloved birds, the great horned owl. Watch as a pair of great horned owlets hatch—Pip. Pip. Pip. Poking. A hole, cracking. Cracking. Crack! Pink owlet pecks out.

Mama and Papa Owl hunt for food and fend off predators while the owlets grow strong enough to hop and branch, flap and fledge, ready to explore the wild world around them.

A Siege of Bitterns

By Steve Burrows,

Book cover of A Siege of Bitterns

A Siege of Bitterns features an unusual protagonist: a reluctant detective. DI Domenic Jejeune is a Canadian transplanted to the UK, to premier birding country. Jejeune likes bird watching as much, if not more, than solving murders. He occasionally comes across as a tortured eccentric. One wonders how he can solve crimes. But he does. His odd individualism is reminiscent of famous fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. A Siege of Bitterns features a tangled bird’s nest of false starts and red herrings. Burrows doesn’t shy away from descriptive prose and yet the novel doesn’t lose momentum. It stays focused on the prize: the whodunit.

Who am I?

I write North Noir, detective fiction set in the Northeastern USA and Canada. I like mystery/detective stories told with descriptive flair, with clever twists and unforgettable protagonists. Why would you want to read my recommendations? I’ve read hundreds of mystery/detective novels, in all subgenres, from cozy to noir. I’ve been a book review editor, for all types of books. I don’t go for bent cops or over-the-top bloodbaths. If you like character-driven mystery/detective novels, try these five.

I wrote...

Bay of Blood

By A.M. Potter,

Book cover of Bay of Blood

What is my book about?

“Quintessential Canadian mystery” | “Vivid page-turner” ~ Kudos for Bay of Blood

World-renowned painter Thom Tyler is murdered in Georgian Bay, Canada. The consensus is that Tyler had no enemies. Why would anyone murder him? Detective Sergeant Eva Naslund goes to work with a homicide team from OPP Central. They find no useful blood, print, or DNA evidence. They turn to financial forensics and criminal psychology. Tyler’s paintings are worth millions, yet he’s deeply in debt to banks and his art agent. Just as the investigation opens a new lead, courtesy of Tyler’s friend, J.J. MacKenzie, MacKenzie is murdered. The team is back to ground zero—with two murders to solve.

Big Twitch

By Sean Dooley,

Book cover of Big Twitch: One Man, One Continent, a Race Against Time - A True Story about Birdwatching

I love stories about obsessive birding characters, and this is, without doubt, the funniest!! The author details his quest to try and break the annual Australian birding record by seeing more than 700 birds in a year. He drops everything to try and complete this task and runs into incredibly humorous and sometimes unbelievable situations. I love the way the author uses his self-deprecating humor to drive this fascinating story. An excellent read for anyone with a keen interest in birds and a keen sense of humor!

Who am I?

I've had a life-long passion for birds and African wildlife that developed from a very early age, spending countless hours on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. At various times I've had a totally compulsive obsession for birds and have chased rare and endangered birds around the planet for my long-standing TV series Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV. My love for elephants is equally as strong and I produced an award-winning conservation film in 2018 entitled Last of the Big Tuskers that features the plight of the world’s last remaining 20 or so super-tusker elephants. I'm a conservation fanatic and love exploring the links between local people and wildlife.

I wrote...

When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer

By James Alexander Currie, Bonnie J. Fladung, Margo Gabrielle Damian (illustrator)

Book cover of When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer

What is my book about?

This is a riveting African adventure story told with passion and charm. But as the Zulus say, “There is no river without a shade.” Follow the daring safari of James Currie as his love of birds, fascination with wildlife, and craving for adventure lead him into humorous and life-threatening situations. James captures the essence of what it means to be African today, facing everything from the Big Five to the vestiges of apartheid to the AIDS epidemic. He provides authoritative information on African wildlife and illustrates hair-raising encounters with lions, buffalo, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and snakes through exciting and humorous stories.

A History of Birdwatching in 100 Objects

By David Callahan,

Book cover of A History of Birdwatching in 100 Objects

The author was one of the earliest (if not the earliest) to write a history of a subject using a specific number of objects. In this book, he describes the development of observing birds through the medium of 100 objects, of which a surprising selection is presented, all well illustrated, from prehistoric paintings to more recent technology.  Possibly the most curious is a stuffed extinct dodo at the Horniman Museum in London. It was actually a deceptive piece made by a leading taxidermist using plaster casts, chicken wings, and swan, goose, and ostrich feathers.

Who am I?

Having grown up on the south coast of Hampshire, I love both the countryside and the sea. After studying ancient history, archaeology, and Latin at the University of Bristol, I worked for many years as a field archaeologist and met my husband Roy on an excavation of a Roman villa at Milton Keynes. We have worked together ever since, as archaeologists and as authors of books on archaeology, ancient history, naval history, and social history. Our wide-ranging interests proved invaluable when writing our book When There Were Birds.

I wrote...

When There Were Birds

By Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins,

Book cover of When There Were Birds

What is my book about?

Our book can be summarised as ‘Whatever did birds do for us?’ The answer is a surprising amount. By drawing together disparate and often forgotten strands, we have created an unexpected social history of Britain, showing how birds were once centre stage. They were key elements of the nation’s history, traditions, and sports and so shaped our literature, language, superstitions, and myths. The numerous topics include medicine, food, folklore, migration, caged birds, canaries down mines, unlucky feathers, goose quills for writing, weather forecasts, taxidermy, and so much more. For those who care about the environment, our book provides essential information about how birds fared in the past.

Waiting for a Warbler

By Sneed B. Collard III, Thomas Brooks (illustrator),

Book cover of Waiting for a Warbler

Owen’s garden is like my own! Both our yards are graced with big, old, native trees and we’ve planted additional species of native trees, shrubs, and flowers in the hopes of attracting our avian friends. Like Owen, my hope is that these plants will provide for the birds we love to watch, as well as draw the insects that make healthy meals for them. While I’ve never seen a cerulean blue warbler, I love watching other various birds that visit our garden, especially the great horned owls!

Who am I?

I’ve always enjoyed both gardening and children. As a former Virginia Master Gardener and Homeschool mom, and a current Lancaster National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward, I now find myself encouraging others to look at gardening in a new light – not only as a way to decorate their yards, but also as a means to provide habitat for our diminishing wildlife population. I try to show how you can have both beauty and function at the same time and how much fun it is to engage children in this essential activity. I love books that show what a difference one person – even a young child – can make in the world.

I wrote...

Grandma Lisa's Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden

By Lisa Doseff,

Book cover of Grandma Lisa's Humming, Buzzing, Chirping Garden

What is my book about?

A Gentle Blueprint for Engaging Children in Creating an Enchanting Garden for Wildlife!

If you’re looking for inspiration to create a natural habitat of your own, or simply want to spark a love of nature in youngsters, join Grandma Lisa as she transforms her garden into a wildlife sanctuary with the help of her curious and eager grandchildren. Told in rhyme from a child’s perspective, children will enjoy learning about the benefits of native plants and insects, as well as important concepts such as host plants, food webs, and so much more. But be prepared…you just may find yourself pulling on your garden gloves, picking up a shovel, and heading outdoors to bring nature into the little piece of the planet where you live.

The Sibley Guide to Birds

By David Allen Sibley,

Book cover of The Sibley Guide to Birds

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.

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.

Strange Birds

By Celia C. Pérez,

Book cover of Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Strange Birds had me at “rebel scout troop.” Four girls from different backgrounds form a secret scout troop in a treehouse and rally around a unique cause. Their town’s prominent girls’ group, The Floras, crowns the winner of the Miss Floras pageant with a vintage feathered hat. Bird-loving Cat Garcia, a Floras member herself, is outraged that millions of wild birds were sacrificed for such lavish hats, before the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made killing birds for feathers illegal. The girls come up with creative environmental activism tactics to end the Floras’ misguided tradition, with a bit of mayhem along the way. Inspiring, thoughtful, hopeful. Bonus: backmatter with birdwatching tips, DIY badges, and an extensive bibliography about bird conservation gives the novel a “field guide” vibe.

Who am I?

I live in a town near a wildlife refuge. I frequently encounter wildlife, including turtles, in my neighborhood. Trouble at Turtle Pond was inspired by volunteer work my son and I did with a local conservation group, fostering endangered Blanding’s turtles. Although my previous books were mysteries set in other countries, I have become interested in the mysteries we can find in our own back yards and in other community spaces we share with nature. I love eco-fiction about kids who love animals, who are “nature detectives,” who have strong opinions, and who are working for the environment, recognizing that every small step makes a difference.

I wrote...

Trouble at Turtle Pond

By Diana Renn,

Book cover of Trouble at Turtle Pond

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Miles has moved to a neighborhood near a wildlife refuge, where nesting turtles are on the move. His neighbor, Pia, convinces him to join the Backyard Rangers, who are working to protect them. Miles and Pia discover clues to crimes against endangered Blanding’s turtles. Worse, a pair of foster turtle hatchlings in Pia’s care go missing at a town event. Suspecting poachers, the Backyard Rangers investigate suspects in town. But when Miles becomes a suspect himself, he has to convince his new friends he’s not who they think he is and stop the turtle crimes before more turtles – and people – get hurt.

Trouble at Turtle Pond is a friendship-centered eco-mystery about community science, activist kids, and the power of paying attention.

Backpack Explorer

By Editors of Storey Publishing, Oana Befort (illustrator),

Book cover of Backpack Explorer: Bird Watch: What Will You Find?

Oh, how I wish I had this book when I was a child! Each brightly illustrated page is rich with close-up photos of various birds to look for, field guides, and tips to follow. It’s jam-packed with every activity bird-loving littles could hope for—games, crafts, a birding log for sightings, sticker badges, and a real magnifying glass! Bird Watch is an excellent book for school field trips, family nature adventures, and the perfect gift for young explorers.

Who am I?

My father was a life-long falconer. When I was a child, spending time with my father meant spending time with a menagerie of winged friends like goshawks, peregrine falcons, parrots, owls, and even vultures. I didn’t know it back then, but as I went hawking with my dad and helped him care for his beautiful birds, I was gathering a nest of passion and ideas for the writer and poet I would become. Today, I enjoy sharing my love of birds, nature, and books with children (and children at heart).

I wrote...

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

By Danna Smith, Bagram Ibatoulline (illustrator),

Book cover of The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

What is my book about?

Gentle verse and sweeping, majestic artwork set imaginations soaring in a handsome and illuminating ode to the ancient art of falconry.

Join a young girl and her father, the falconer at a medieval castle, as they experience the joys of taking a goshawk out for a training flight. The girl leads readers through all the preparations and equipment needed for the flight — from the hawk’s hood and bells to the falconer’s gloves — culminating in a dramatic demonstration of the hawk’s hunting skill. Bagram Ibatoulline’s masterful illustrations capture the vivid details and beauty of a day spent hawking, while Danna Smith’s poetic storytelling will make readers long to experience the art and sport of falconry firsthand.

Look Up!

By Annette LeBlanc Cate,

Book cover of Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard

What can I say? I am an adult who’s an avid birder (I take joy in observing them daily), I work with wild bird rehabilitation (sounds like a sweet job, but it’s actually quite taxing), I photograph birds (I try!), I count the bird species in my backyard (over 100 species and know many of them personally), and I write professionally about birds - - and I learned so much about birds from this clever children’s book!  It’s a must-have for any budding birder and birding family. I love the quirky design (speech bubbles!) -and most importantly, the cleverly presented facts about birding and the bird world. Check it out.

Who am I?

I’m the author of more than 25 award-winning books for children, including Mama Built a Little Nest, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, and I Love Birds! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander and Explore Birds with Kids, illustrated by Alexander Vidal. When not writing, I help rehabilitate injured and orphaned songbirds, I study bird behavior, and I further my knowledge about birds through books and scholarly journals. Birds offer a constant source of discovery and wonder. I hope the books I’ve recommended offer a source of discovery and wonder for your young readers, too!

I wrote...

How to Find a Bird

By Jennifer Ward, Diana Sudyka (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Find a Bird

What is my book about?

This book is about the many wonderful ways a child may find a bird. They may begin by watching for them. And listening for them. And staying quiet, so quiet they can hear their own heartbeat. Children will soon discover that birds are everywhere - up in the sky, down on the ground, and sometimes right in front of them, just waiting to be discovered! This book features more than fifty species of birds, lushly illustrated by Diana Sudyka, and is a joyful and informative story to inspire budding young birders.

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