Suggested Reading for your Birding Library


Do you have a favorite book?  Let us know what it is!

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The Complete Birder--A Guide to Better Birding  by Jack Connor

For any beginning birder, Jack Connor's guide is the #1 essential book next to the field identification guide of your choice. Know this book and you will know more than 90% of all birders. Although it's now over 22 years old, the Complete Birder has still essential info on optics, chapters on acoustics & migration, and lots of tips for identifying birds. The chapters on warblers and hawks should be required reading! The informative style gives the inside scoop not just on birds but what to expect from fellow birders as well! It's full of important information beautifully presented. Jack is still going strong well into his eighties! Don't miss the forward by Roger Tory Peterson!

 

 EVERYBODY HAS A FAVORITE FIELD GUIDE!

Generally, artist-rendered field guides in which the artist has posed the bird just so, and enhanced the field marks for the reader, are superior to photo-illustrated guides.  One exception might be Kenn Kaufman's Birds of North America (a Kaufman Focus Guide) .  Sibley's guides took the birding world by storm a few years ago, and seem to still hold their position as the authoritative field guide dragged out by the most experienced birders.  Peterson's field guides, divided into Eastern and Western editions, give the reader a strong alternative with good features and great illustrations in a handy size.

 

The field guide that deserves more attention than it usually gets is the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.  It's a handy field jacket size, and has more than one illustration of many bird species.  The fifth edition is indexed, so you can go right to the tab for warblers or sparrows without leafing thru the whole book.  The descriptions and maps are on the same page as the species illustration, another nice feature.

 

 

Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds-- by Scott Weidensaul.

This remarkable book was the Pulitzer prize nominated work by one of our very best nature writers.  Engaging and informative, Weidensaul's classic gives an in depth portrait of bird migration featuring seabirds, shorebirds, hawks, and more.  Over 370 pages of well-referenced text will give the enthusiast an in depth look at migration all over the Hemisphere, with his trademark style of prose providing great education and entertainment in one irresistable volume. Be forwarned that it's easy to become addicted to Weidensaul's literary talent!

                                

                                             BUT WAIT!!  THERE'S MORE!!

 

Weidensaul has many remarkable books;  for the Appalachain naturalist a must read is his Mountains of the Heart; an in-depth narrative of our iconic mountain range starting with the geologic formation of the mountains and describing in detail everything from the ecologic pressures on migratory birds to experiencing an unexpected encounter with Momma while studying black bears!  His descriptions of the reformation of our land at the hands of Man and speculations about the future of the Appalachian mountains makes this a must read.

 

For pure entertainment, one could hardly do better than The Ghost with Trembling Wings, a reflection on 'science, wishful thinking, and the search for lost species'-- with examples such as Ivory Billed Woodpeckers, the Auroch, pregenator of modern cattle, the tasmanian tiger known as the Thylacine, and leading up to his personal quest for the Cone-billed Tanager, a Latin American bird known from a single specimen collected in the 1930's.  Certainly there's much to reflect upon when one considers the many species that have been lost forever at the hands of man-- with so many more to come.

 

 

WINTER WORLD-- by Bernd Heinrich.  This remarkable narrative is written by the even more remarkable Professor of Biology at University of Vermont.  Heinrich has been a naturalist and entomologist ever since the Nazis invaded his native Poland, forcing his family to live off of the forest (he remembers raiding bird nests for squabs at the age of three).  Winter World is a delightful description of the adaptations of various species to the New England winter-- everything from turtles and weasels, mice and frogs.  Throughout the narrative Heinrich describes the adaptations of the Golden Crowned Kinglet:  this tiny bird, weighing less than a nickel and living at the absolute edge of the energy equation, sustains an annual mortality approaching 90% as it survives the New England winter nights with temperatures approaching 30 degrees below zero.  A wonderful read and also a suitable gift for readers as young as 6th grade.  Other notable books by Bernd Heinrich include Mind of the Raven, A Year in the Maine Woods, and  The Geese of Beaver Bog

 

 

Small-Headed Flycather.  Seen Yesterday.  He Didn't Leave his Name. (and other stories)  by Pete Dunne 

Now on to some lighter reading by one of our most enjoyable and amusing naturalists.  Pete Dunne is director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and a terrific author who weaves reflections on nature with portraits of birding personalities he has met over many years.  The title story of this collection is, quite simply, the finest piece of short story fiction ever written about birding.

 

 

 

Songbird Journeys:  Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds  by Miyoko Chu

This little gem of a book is written by one of our most informative and enjoyable ornithologists.  Miyoko leads us on a pleasant birding 'day' that lasts through the seasons and reflects on some of the most interesting science in the field, from watching birds cross the moon through telescopes to acoustic bird counts and radar science during the midnight migrations.  Beautiful color plates by Evan Barbour are a bonus.

 

 

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ADVANCED BIRDING

There are (at least!) two popular books on advanced birding-- The first, by popular naturalist Kenn Kaufman, is a Peterson Field guide aimed for the birder at the near professional level-- for birding 'at the next level'--say, distinguishing a juvenile Western Sandpiper from a semipalmated. There's plenty of information about the approach to advanced birding, as well as technical refreshers and notes on pitfalls and terminology. Chapters on terns, fall warblers, dowitchers and scaups are rather technical. Now in it's 2nd edition, the Field Guide to Advanced Birding takes an in depth look at the most difficult birding challenges.

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A practical and entertaining alternative for the less academic birder is Identify Yourself by Bird Watcher's Digest editor Bill Thompson. Written in a relaxed and casual style, this delightful and information-packed book can give any birder a real advantage when confronted with an unexpected bird-- a vireo or owl, or any of the more commonly confused swallows, warblers, or sparrows. The illustrations by his wife Julie Zickefoose are outstanding. You'll want to read this one over and over!

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Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape

By Tom Wessels.

How long ago was this piece of land used by the early settlers?  Were these woods once used for crops or grazing?  Which side of this old stone fence was pasture, or which side plowed?  Can we identify the species of this old dead knot? What kind of stump is here, and which species of tree stump rots away leaving intact bark rings?  All these questions, and more, are answered in this fascinating new book by Tom Wessels of Antioch University in New England.  Richly illustrated with beautiful color photos, this little pearl of a book can transform a walk in the woods into an exciting dectective story!

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Birdology by Sy Montgomery

For an imaginative and entertaining group of stories about such diverse birds as chickens and crows to the potentially lethal cassowary, try Birdology, an adventure book just published by Sy Montgomery, nature lover and children’s author.  As the jacket claims, each chapter describes a “different and utterly surprising aspect of what makes a bird a bird” with amusing and enlightening detail.  One reviewer at Amazon noted "Montgomery manages again to do what shes does so well; to blend extensive information about animals with enormous empathy for them, with unusual insights into their lives derived from her personal experiences with diverse creatures. Birdology looks at the lives and abilities and evolution of birds from this unique perspective, using several particular species as exemplars." A good vacation read or gift for someone as young as fourteen.

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The Armchair Birder:  by John Yow

My first choice for an entertaining read for adults is John Yow’s new book on common birds.  “I can’t claim to have driven 300 miles in the middle of the night to see the avocets at dawn on Delaware Bay” John states in his introduction—but what he has achieved is a well-researched and deeply rewarding narrative on some of our most well-known birds—starting with the Carolina Wren and Eastern Phoebe and working up to philosophical discussions of Scarlet Tanagers and even Brown-Headed Cowbirds!  Owls, warblers, woodpeckers all get their chance on center stage with this remarkably observant and introspective naturalist.