The best ornithology books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about ornithology and why they recommend each book.

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The Unfeathered Bird

By Katerina van Grouw,

Book cover of The Unfeathered Bird

So you want to paint dinosaurs? An artist depicting a modern animal works from life, or works from photographs. Neither option is open to the dinosaur artist. But now that we know that dinosaurs are evolved from birds we have modern examples that can give us a start – at least we can see the layout of muscles and how they bulk out the body around the skeleton. This book is a wonderful atlas of bird parts and can provide a perfect guide to how bones are articulated and how the muscles are built up. It is the nearest that a dinosaur artist will get to a direct visual reference! And it is so beautifully done that it works as a coffee table book – something to be just looked at and admired.


Who am I?

Dougal Dixon graduated from the University of St. Andrews with two degrees in geology. But although his education was entirely scientific his background was deeply artistic – a potentially unemployable combination back in the ‘70s. And so he ended up in publishing, as the Earth Science editor for an illustrated encyclopedia publisher. Since then he has become a full-time writer, specializing in geological articles for encyclopedias, handbooks on fossil collecting, and principally children’s books on dinosaurs. As well as that he has done a number of books on speculative evolution – exploring the principles of biology in novel ways.


I wrote...

After Man: A Zoology of the Future

By Dougal Dixon,

Book cover of After Man: A Zoology of the Future

What is my book about?

After Man explores a hypothetical future set 50 million years from now, a time period Dougal Dixon dubs the "Posthomic", which is inhabited by animals that have evolved from survivors of a mass extinction succeeding our own time. After Man used a fictional setting and hypothetical animals to explain the natural processes behind evolution. 


The Wisdom of Birds

By Tim Birkhead,

Book cover of The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology

This book is a fascinating look at ornithology through the ages, from mythology and legend to the evolution of our scientific understanding of birds today. It includes beautiful illustrations from medieval monks to early naturalists through the 20th century. Even the most casual birdwatcher will learn something fascinating from this book; I read it slowly, digesting a section at a time, and it’s one I’m sure I’ll return to again and again.


Who am I?

I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and spent many weekends hiking, camping, and fishing with my parents. Identifying and understanding the plants and animals around me was always interesting, and this love of nature has stayed with me as an adult. I now live near Lake Michigan and am an avid hiker, birdwatcher, and an Indiana Master Naturalist. I take endless inspiration from the natural world in my illustration work and believe that co-existing with, respecting, and preserving the natural world is central not just to the integrity of our planet, but to our very humanity.


I wrote...

Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects: Step-By-Step Realistic Line Drawing - A Sourcebook for Aspiring Artists and Designers

By Melissa Washburn,

Book cover of Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects: Step-By-Step Realistic Line Drawing - A Sourcebook for Aspiring Artists and Designers

What is my book about?

Featuring more than 600 sketches depicting a vast array of beautiful winged forms, Draw Like an Artist: 100 Birds, Butterflies, and Other Insects is a visual reference for students and aspiring artists, or anyone else seeking to improve their realistic drawing skills.

This step-by-step guidebook demonstrates fundamental art concepts like proportion, anatomy, and spatial relationships as you learn to draw a full range of winged creatures, all shown from a variety of perspectives. Each set of illustrations takes you from beginning sketch lines to a finished drawing.

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.

The Sun Is a Compass

By Caroline Van Hemert,

Book cover of The Sun Is a Compass: My 4,000-Mile Journey Into the Alaskan Wilds

This book combines the author's love of nature with adventure. Ornithologist Caroline van Hemert takes a 4,000-mile journey into the Alaskan Wilds and it is both a story of deep immersion into the wild and a story of challenging yourself. Biology is focused on the wonder and complexity of life and what I love about this book is that it celebrates the beauty of the natural world. The author does this through immersion into nature and by deciphering it. Through her intense personal nature contact, she yields unexpected surprises that enhance the beauty of the world. 

Biology can be mentally and physically challenging as a profession, and there is no guarantee of success. More often than not the path does not follow a clear route. It thins out and leads to no discovery. However, along the way, there is the beauty of the physical wilderness, the natural world, and nature…


Who am I?

Biology is the study of life, and I cannot think of anything more important. It’s like being interested in what’s happening to the ball when you are playing the ball game. I was very fortunate to have grown up in close contact with nature and it led me down this path. I love discovering intricate mechanisms not by thoughts but with data. Those discoveries almost always turn out to be surprising and more than what had, or could be, imagined and assumed. 


I wrote...

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

By Bernd Heinrich,

Book cover of Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival

What is my book about?

From flying squirrels to grizzly bears, and from torpid turtles to insects with antifreeze, the animal kingdom relies on some staggering evolutionary innovations to survive winter. Unlike their human counterparts, who must alter the environment to accommodate physical limitations, animals are adaptable to an amazing range of conditions.

Examining everything from food sources in the extremely barren winter landscape to the chemical composition that allows certain creatures to survive, Heinrich's Winter World awakens the largely undiscovered mysteries by which nature sustains herself through winter's harsh, cruel exigencies.

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird

By Phillip Hoose,

Book cover of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird

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.


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.


I wrote...

Where Have All the Bees Gone?: Pollinators in Crisis

By Rebecca E. Hirsch,

Book cover of Where Have All the Bees Gone?: Pollinators in Crisis

What is my book about?

Apples, blueberries, peppers, cucumbers, coffee, and vanilla. Do you like to eat and drink? Then you might want to thank a bee. Bees pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States. Around the world, bees pollinate $24 billion worth of crops each year. Without bees, humans would face a drastically reduced diet. But numbers of bees are falling, and some bee species are teetering on the brink of extinction. What's behind the decline?

This book teaches you about the many bee species on Earth -- their nests, their colonies, their life cycles, and their vital connection to flowering plants. You'll learn how diseases, pesticides, climate change, and loss of habitat are all threatening bee populations. Most importantly, you'll discover what you can do to help.

The Birds of Shakespeare

By James Edmund Harting,

Book cover of The Birds of Shakespeare: Critically examined, explained, and illustrated

Also known as The Ornithology of Shakespeare, James Edmund Harting published this book in 1871 as a detailed analysis of all the references to birds in Shakespeare’s plays. He shows that to Shakespeare and his audience, birds and field sports were second nature. His book starts with Shakespeare’s general knowledge of natural history and then tackles different types of birds, such as those with song and the owl and its associations. Harting was an extremely knowledgeable ornithologist and hawker, and his book is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand Shakespeare.


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.

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