The most recommended ornithology books

Who picked these books? Meet our 25 experts.

25 authors created a book list connected to ornithology, and here are their favorite ornithology books.
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Book cover of Why Birds Matter: Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services

Anders Gyllenhaal Author Of A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds

From my list on what’s happening to our birds.

Who am I?

A decade ago, we were living in Washington, D.C., wrapped up as journalists in the daily news cycle. We began camping to get out of the city and quickly became fascinated with birds. We’ve been writing about birds ever since, on our website, FlyingLessons.US: What we’re learning from the birds,” and now with a book about the extraordinary work across the hemisphere to save birds. There’s a storehouse of books, articles and guides on birdwatching, but very little on what’s happening to bird populations overall. We believe the story of birds is one of the best ways to open a window on the environmental issues that are among the pivotal topics of our time.

Anders' book list on what’s happening to our birds

Anders Gyllenhaal Why did Anders love this book?

This is not an easy read, built on a deep academic tour of the evidence of how birds contribute to this world. But it makes up for the tough sledding by providing huge doses of detail that make the case for why we cannot let birds continue to wither away.

Birds consume, for instance, 400 to 500 tons of insects each year across the earth. They contribute to billions of dollars in value when you add up all the ways we rely on their pollinating, seed dispersal, garbage collection – not to mention the outdoor activities they provide people.

When bird species are pulled out of the equation, as vultures were in India for a time, the results can be catastrophic – leading to disease, death, and enormous health costs. By the time you finish this book, you’ll be ready to do whatever it takes to help stop the steady…

By Cagan H. Sekercioglu (editor), Daniel G. Wenny (editor), Christopher J. Whelan (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For over one hundred years, ornithologists and amateur birders have jointly campaigned for the conservation of bird species, documenting not only birds' beauty and extraordinary diversity, but also their importance to ecosystems worldwide. But while these avian enthusiasts have noted that birds eat fruit, carrion, and pests; spread seed and fertilizer; and pollinate plants, among other services, they have rarely asked what birds are worth in economic terms. In Why Birds Matter, an international collection of ornithologists, botanists, ecologists, conservation biologists, and environmental economists seeks to quantify avian ecosystem services the myriad benefits that birds provide to humans. The first…


Book cover of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird

Rebecca E. Hirsch Author Of Where Have All the Bees Gone?: Pollinators in Crisis

From my list on for teens who care about the environment.

Who am I?

I am the author of more than eighty books on science for young readers. My books for teens include The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery, Climate Migrants: On the Move in a Warming World, and Where Have All the Bees Gone? My books have won many honors, including a Green Prize for Sustainable Literature, a John Burroughs Association Riverby Award for nature writing, and a place on Booklist's Top 10 Books on the Environment & Sustainability for Youth for 2020. I hold a PhD in cellular & molecular biology, and my background as a professional biologist informs my writing.

Rebecca's book list on for teens who care about the environment

Rebecca E. Hirsch Why did Rebecca love this book?

Hoose tells the fascinating history of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent creature of the swamps and forests of the southeastern US. The book sweeps through two hundred years of history as the bird is hunted, harassed, and its habitat destroyed. By the twentieth century, the birds are so scarce that ornithologists launch the first of many searches, heading into the swamps to find evidence of the bird. To this day, the mystery remains maddeningly unsolved: does the ivory-billed woodpecker still exist or is has it been driven to extinction? A haunting story and one that might make you cry.

By Phillip Hoose,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Race to Save the Lord God Bird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The tragedy of extinction is explained through the dramatic story of a legendary bird, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and of those who tried to possess it, paint it, shoot it, sell it, and, in a last-ditch effort, save it. A powerful saga that sweeps through two hundred years of history, it introduces artists like John James Audubon, bird collectors like William Brewster, and finally a new breed of scientist in Cornell's Arthur A. "Doc" Allen and his young ornithology student, James Tanner, whose quest to save the Ivory-bill culminates in one of the first great conservation showdowns in U.S. history, an…


Book cover of The Summer Skies

Jeannee Sacken Author Of The Rule of Thirds

From Jeannee's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Author Photojournalist Conservationist of endangered species Former English professor Traveler

Jeannee's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jeannee Sacken Why did Jeannee love this book?

In her soaring novel, Jenny Colgan has me in the co-pilot’s seat right next to Morag MacIntyre while she’s flying her family’s small plane to deliver mail, supplies, and tourists to Scotland’s northernmost windswept islands.

The descriptions of the islands as seen from the air and on the ground are glorious and had me reliving my time in Scotland. I love strong female characters, especially when they save the day—and the plane—in the midst of a terrible storm and then muster the courage to send a betraying boyfriend on his way.

By Jenny Colgan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The brand-new escapist summer novel from Sunday Times bestseller Jenny Colgan. Fall in love with a new cast of characters and get swept away in a breath-taking romance you'll want to read again and again . . .

'A glorious, breathtaking, tender romance. I loved every moment of the ride' SOPHIE KINSELLA

'[A] blast of feelgood fiction [...] it makes me want to head for the Highlands' THE TIMES

'You'll be racing through the pages' INDEPENDENT

'Another Colgan classic for the beach bag' WOMEN'S WEEKLY
___________________________________

Born into a family of successful pilots, Morag is used to flying high. But…


Book cover of Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

Tove Danovich Author Of Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them

From my list on animals helping us understand ourselves.

Who am I?

I am a freelance journalist who started writing about animals after getting and falling in love with a flock of chickens. Animals are fascinating in their own right but the way we talk about them, and our relationships, shine a fascinating light on humans and what we value. My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Country Living, and many others. 

Tove's book list on animals helping us understand ourselves

Tove Danovich Why did Tove love this book?

Researchers don’t know much about barn owls so Stacey O’Brien, a biologist, and owl researcher, takes on the chance to raise one as a research assignment. Wesley quickly becomes so much more than that.

This memoir opens the door on owl intelligence and behavior while including unforgettable details like that baby barn owls smell “like maple syrup.” You’ll love the friendship between Wesley and his human.

A book that’s over far too quickly. 

By Stacey O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On Valentine’s Day 1985, biologist Stacey O’Brien adopted Wesley, a baby barn owl with an injured wing who could not have survived in the wild. Over the next nineteen years, O’Brien studied Wesley’s strange habits with both a tender heart and a scientist’s eye—and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl’s lifetime). She watched him turn from a helpless fluff ball into an avid com­municator with whom she developed a language all their own. Eventually he became a gorgeous, gold-and-white macho adult with a heart-shaped face who preened in the…


Book cover of Mozart's Starling

Tove Danovich Author Of Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them

From my list on animals helping us understand ourselves.

Who am I?

I am a freelance journalist who started writing about animals after getting and falling in love with a flock of chickens. Animals are fascinating in their own right but the way we talk about them, and our relationships, shine a fascinating light on humans and what we value. My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Country Living, and many others. 

Tove's book list on animals helping us understand ourselves

Tove Danovich Why did Tove love this book?

Starlings are everywhere and yet I hadn’t properly seen them until I picked up this book.

The author combines the history of our relationship with the starling, a reviled bird that is nevertheless so much like us, with an up-close view of the species through a pet starling named Carmen. This book will leave you enchanted by the chatty birds. 

By Lyanda Lynn Haupt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On May 27th, 1784, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart met a flirtatious little starling who sang (an improved version of!) the theme from his Piano Concerto Number 17 in G to him. Knowing a kindred spirit when he met one, Mozart wrote "That was wonderful" in his journal and took the bird home to be his pet. For three years Mozart and his family enjoyed the uniquely delightful company of the starling until one April morning when the bird passed away.

In 2013, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet, rescued her own starling, Carmen, who has become a part of her…


Book cover of The Penguins: Spheniscidae (Bird Families of the World, No. 2)

Dyan deNapoli Author Of The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue

From my list on penguins for adults.

Who am I?

I’m a penguin expert, TED speaker, and life-long animal lover. I was a Senior Penguin Aquarist at Boston’s New England Aquarium, where I worked for 9 years. In 2000, I helped manage the rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. I founded my educational company The Penguin Lady in 2005, and give presentations at schools, universities, libraries, conferences (including the International Penguin Conference), and on National Geographic’s ships in Antarctica. I’ve given 4 TEDx talks, wrote and narrated a TED-Ed video about penguin conservation, and am a frequent guest expert on radio, podcasts, and TV in the US and abroad whenever penguins hit the news.

Dyan's book list on penguins for adults

Dyan deNapoli Why did Dyan love this book?

For serious penguin geeks, this book has long been the penguin bible. If you’re looking for scientifically accurate information about the biology and behavior of each penguin species, this is a fantastic reference book. Written by a leading ornithologist who has done field research on penguins, The Penguins gives a very comprehensive overview of each species, with detailed information about everything from breeding biology, to foraging ecology, to physical measurements, and much more. There are many illustrations and graphs as well. (The Penguins is manna for natural-science geeks and hard-core bird nerds.)

By Tony D. Williams, J.N. Davies (illustrator), John Busby (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bird Families of the World is a multivolume series of handbooks, intended to serve the interests of both the professional scientist and the serious amateur ornithologist. Each volume will provide a comprehensive and accurate synthesis of our knowledge of one bird family or several related families. In each book the reader will find: * Six to nine general chapters on the biology, feeding ecology, breeding behaviour, evolutionary relationships, and conservation of the family * Specially commissioned colour plates by a leading artist, showing both sexes and juveniles of all species and many subspecies * Black and white drawings illustrating special…


Book cover of The Genius of Birds

Anders Gyllenhaal Author Of A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds

From my list on what’s happening to our birds.

Who am I?

A decade ago, we were living in Washington, D.C., wrapped up as journalists in the daily news cycle. We began camping to get out of the city and quickly became fascinated with birds. We’ve been writing about birds ever since, on our website, FlyingLessons.US: What we’re learning from the birds,” and now with a book about the extraordinary work across the hemisphere to save birds. There’s a storehouse of books, articles and guides on birdwatching, but very little on what’s happening to bird populations overall. We believe the story of birds is one of the best ways to open a window on the environmental issues that are among the pivotal topics of our time.

Anders' book list on what’s happening to our birds

Anders Gyllenhaal Why did Anders love this book?

Each of the five books on my list come at what’s happening to birds from a very different angle.

The Genius of Birds, a blockbuster by one of the world’s leading nature writers, tells a string of stories that help us understand why birds are both so remarkable and so crucial to the globe.

The thrust of the book is that birds are far smarter than once thought. But these chapters go much deeper than that into how birds are crafty, have tremendous memories, and are even capable of deceit.

Ackerman followed up The Genuis of Birds with an equally fascinating book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent and Think, that digs into the daily lives of birds.

By Jennifer Ackerman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Lovely, celebratory. For all the belittling of ‘bird brains,’ [Ackerman] shows them to be uniquely impressive machines . . .” —New York Times Book Review 

“A lyrical testimony to the wonders of avian intelligence.” —Scientific American

An award-winning science writer tours the globe to reveal what makes birds capable of such extraordinary feats of mental prowess
 
Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. According to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores their newly discovered brilliance and how it came about.

As she…


Book cover of Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky

Celia Haddon Author Of Being Your Cat: What's really going on in your feline's mind

From Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Mad cat lady Love study Kitten rehabber

Celia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Celia Haddon Why did Celia love this book?

I wanted to know more about these birds. I love the sound of swifts as they circle high in the sky in summer. The book inspired me to put up two swift nest boxes and to try to persuade all builders to include a swift brick in every new house.

I loved this book because it took me into the strange world of the swift. My three passions are cats, animal welfare, and nature. Swifts are amazing and incredible birds, and we need to know more about them so we can help them survive in the modern world.

By Sarah Gibson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Swifts live almost entirely in the air. They eat, drink, sleep, mate and gather their nesting materials on the wing, fly thousands of miles across the world, navigating their way around storms, never lighting on tree, cliff or ground, until they return home with the summer.

Sarah Gibson has written a fascinating story of discovery, exploring what is known about these mysterious birds, their ancient ancestry and how they have been regarded through history. But the swifts are in real danger: often unintentionally, we are sealing our homes against wildlife of any kind. Cracks, gaps and crevices which for thousands…


Book cover of The Sibley Guide to Birds

Jonathan Balcombe Author Of Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World's Most Successful Insects

From my list on understanding 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.

Jonathan's book list on understanding birds

Jonathan Balcombe Why did Jonathan 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 Far Away and Long Ago: A History of My Early Life

Conor Mark Jameson Author Of Finding W. H. Hudson: The Writer Who Came to Britain to Save the Birds

From my list on W. H. Hudson, in his own words.

Who am I?

I am now a full-time author, and I worked for 25 years for the RSPB at Sandy and BirdLife in Cambridge. An oil painting of W. H. Hudson hangs above the fireplace of the house at Sandy – so he was a familiar face, like an ancestor about whom little is recalled and surprisingly little is ever said. I began to dabble in his books and got drawn in. I wanted to understand him and his female colleagues who created the organisation we know today and that has been such a big part of my life. I have a sense of repaying a debt.

Conor's book list on W. H. Hudson, in his own words

Conor Mark Jameson Why did Conor love this book?

In November 1915 Hudson was in the care of nurses in a Cornish convent hospital, much burdened by news from the Western Front. ‘Shall I live to see peace on earth again?’ he asked Don Roberto Cunninghame Graham in a letter.

"To me nothing is left but memories, and I’m here putting some of my boyhood’s days in a book which will have a certain interest because it gives a sort of picture of the country and people before it began to be civilised."

He was writing a memoir. A combination of Don Roberto’s missives, fevered dreams, and possibly medication sparked Hudson’s visions of his Pampas childhood. He asked his nurses for paper and pencils and began to scribble what would become his acclaimed memoir, Far Away and Long Ago. Virginia Woolf said she greeted the book "like an old friend". It remains a classic of its genre.

By W H Hudson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Far Away and Long Ago as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

”One of the twentieth century’s greatest memoirs.”
—Smithsonian Magazine

“You may try for ever to learn how Hudson got his effects and you will never know. He writes down his words as the good God makes the green grass grow.”
—Joseph Conrad

“As a writer he was a magician.”
—Ford Madox Ford

Far Away and Long Ago is a moving memoir of a vanished world, written by legendary naturalist and writer W. H. Hudson. Lyrical and poignant, Hudson’s reminiscences take us on a journey back in time to the lush and untamed landscape of his childhood in the Argentine pampas.…