Five Books About Birds That I Love

by nickupton

Reading about birds goes alongside watching them if you are a bird lover who wants to learn more about these fascinating creatures. Here are some of my favorite books about birds.

I have been watching birds since I was just six years old and for a long time my appreciation of them was limited to the visual impact they create and the desire to see new species. It was always nice to go to new places and see new birds, and to this day I still find that bird watching is an excellent way to travel, getting me to places that I would otherwise not see.

However, as I got a little older my mother started to buy me books about birds; not just field guides that would help me identify birds, I already had those, but books that let me into the lives of birds. Through these books I learned all sorts of amazing things about these wonderful creatures and was able to see some of these things for myself when I was aware of particular types of behavior.

Over the years I have read a lot of books about birds and while there are some that are not so good, there are many that have helped me understand much about birds and to make watching them even more enjoyable. Other books here have added to my enjoyment of the hobby of bird watching because of the tales of others.

My love of birds is unwavering and here are some of the books that have contributed to that.

1. Bird - DK Eyewitness Books

I came across this book some years ago, killing time in a bookshop, not intending to buy anything, but after browsing through the beautiful presentation of birds here I got out my wallet and took home a copy.

This book is probably the one out of my selection here that will please bird watchers, armchair enthusiasts and even those with only a passing interest as it is full of lovely photographs and snippets of information about them as well as displaying ecological information such as flight and nest-building in a visually appealing and fascinating way.

This is essentially a coffee-table type book but packed full of information too and I would particularly recommend this to anyone who is just starting to take a deeper interest in birds than simply looking at them and writing the species names down on a list; this is a great book to start learning much more about birds from all over the world and I still enjoy sitting down in a comfortable chair and browsing through this.

How I Became A Bird Watcher

The book that I have featured above is a really good one for those who are just getting into birds, people of all ages, as well as those who are already bird lovers. While it would be the sort of thing that turned some one who had a casual interest into someone with a growing passion, my moment of "bird revelation" came about in a different way.

When I was very young my father used to take me on walks in the countryside, sometimes rather longer than was suitable for a 6 year-old, but I liked going out with him into the countryside and looking at all sorts of wildlife. My father used to carry a pair of binoculars and if he saw something interesting he would let me look too.

Dartford Warbler
Dartford Warbler Perched on Gorse, Surrey, England, UK
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One year we went on a family holiday to Cornwall, in south west England and we would walk on the clifftops in the morning, looking at birds and the scenery. I remember being quite interested to look at seabirds such as cormorants and puffins but my father got quite excited with one small bird sitting on some yellow gorse flower; it was a Dartford Warbler. At that time this was an extremely rare bird in England with very few pairs nesting in heathland in the south of the country, so for a six year-old fledgling birder it was very cool.

Not only were Dartford Warblers rare but they are colorful and interesting birds, particularly on a sunny day, sitting on top of yellow flowers, but the really exciting thing for me was that I come from Dartford! I couldn't believe that we had our own bird, and such a rare and beautiful one too. That was the moment that I really became a bird watcher for life. Thanks to that moment and, of course, my father, I now make a living from taking people bird watching.

2. The Life Of Birds - Watch & Listen To This Amazing Lyrebird

This video clip is a famous moment with a Lyrebird copying some incredibly complex sounds. If you have not seen it before, please watch it, it is amazing. If you have seen it before, well, it is always worth seeing again.

This is one of those pieces of footage that should stimulate an interest in birds in anyone.

The above video clip comes from the BBC series, The Life of Birds, which is, in my opinion, the best documentary about birds ever made. For anyone who is interested in birds this series, narrated by the wonderful David Attenborough, is a must see as it contains a wealth of information about bird ecology.

Not long after seeing The Life of Birds for the first time my mother bought me a copy of the book that goes with the series. It is based on David Attenborough's script from the series, alongside magnificent still photographs from the program.

At first I thought it would be rather redundant having already seen the series, but I was wrong. This book reinforces the factual information in the program and allows you to take fascination in the incredible facts about birds without being distracted by moving images.

This is one of the most interesting books about birds that I have ever read and is almost a one-stop evolutionary course about birds; a source of information that was very useful to me when I did my BSc in Conservation. Fantastic!

3. The Sibley Guide To Bird Life & Behavior

I came across this book because a friend of mine kept talking about it when we went out on bird watching trips together. He kept amazing me with snippets of information that he had read in this book and this, together with his enthusiasm for it, made me get my own copy.

If you have got to the point when you have realized that you are definitely a bird watcher and keep finding that there are questions that you want answering about bird behavior then I suggest that this book is for you.

Here David Sibley discusses the behavior of all the families of North American birds along with his own illustrations and it acts as a companion guide to his field guides for North America.

It should be understood that this is not a book that deals so much with general themes as specific information about the different groups of birds found in North America and as such it has limited interest for those outside of this region, but as each bird family has sections on breeding, foraging strategies, migration, songs and calls etc. it is of supreme interest to budding ornithologists.

I am not from North America, nor have I ever been there, but as a bird lover I still found this book very interesting, although some sections were skipped over.

Bird Behavior In Pictures
Painted Stork Stretching its Wings
Painted Stork Stret...
Gathering for Migration - Barn Swallows
Gathering for Migra...
Brown-headed Gull Fishing
Brown-headed Gull F...
Nesting Stripe-throated Bulbul
Nesting Stripe-thro...
Preening Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Preening Greater Ne...
Excavating a Nest Hole - Greater Flameback
Excavating a Nest H...
Aggressive Yellow Bittern
Aggressive Yellow B...
Feigning an Injury - Small Pratincole
Feigning an Injury ...

4. The Big Year By Mark Obmascik

This book is not so much about birds as bird watchers. I read this tale before it was made into a Hollywood movie, it was recommended to me by several people that I had led on bird watching tours, and it turned out to be a good tip.

This is a true story of three bird watchers, in North America, doing a "Big Year"; that is to see as many species of birds in one calendar year as possible. All three are obsessives to some degree but this fun and well-written book, which has a lot to laugh about in it, lets the reader relate to them all and learn a lot about the lengths to which bird watchers will go to see birds .

This is a book that all sorts of people will love. Bird watchers will love it as they can laugh at things they have seen and recognize in themselves, budding birders will also love this story as they learn more about the hobby they have adopted and non-birders will also  be intrigued by the bizarre behavior that is described in the story.

The book "The Big Year" deals with bird watchers' obsession with keeping lists; in this case a year list for North American. Like most birders I keep all sorts of lists, a life list, a UK list, a year list etc. etc.

At its worst, listing, as it is known, can lead to obsessiveness and antisocial behavior. However, at its best listing can increase a birder's enjoyment of the hobby and if the notes on birds are submitted to the appropriate bird recorders, then this knowledge can benefit other bird watchers, science and even the birds themselves.

If you are at all inclined to keep lists of the birds you see I suggest using eBird to keep the records and it will automatically keep all sorts of lists for you.

5. The Migration Ecology Of Birds By Ian Newton

While "The Big Year" is all about fun and bird watchers, The Migration Ecology of Birds is all about the amazing behavior of birds.

I got hold of a copy of this book when I was at university, which gives you an idea of the tone and style of this book, it is a serious study of birds, but quite readable at the same time.

At some point all bird watchers and bird lovers will wonder at bird migration, indeed it is something that nearly all of us notice with the changing seasons, and this book will answer all of your questions and much more besides. If you consider yourself an ornithologist, this book is a must.

Out of all the bird ecology books that I have read this one stands out as the one that I learned the most from and it really helps me to understand migratory patterns of birds when I am out leading bird watching tours and the knowledge that I have picked up here helps me to predict the best times and places to see birds when they are on migration.

Which Of These Books About Birds Would You Most Like To Read?

Asian Openbill Storks
Asian Openbill Storks

And One More That I Want To Read

As a lifelong bird watcher and amateur ornithologist I studied conservation at university and wrote my dissertation on crop selection of singing male Corn Buntings. This involved a lot of survey work and statistical analysis of the data and I often used the excellent Bird Census Techniques by Bibby, Burgess, Hill & Mustoe but the information that I have read about Bird Ecology and Conservation sounds like it contains more advanced and extensive information and techniques than the book I have used in the past.

For anyone who studies, or has studied, birds this looks like an excellent resource and I was lucky to get a great deal on a cheap copy, moments ago, on eBay.

Fantastic Bird Identification Guides

If you are looking for field guides to birds, in countries all over the world, then the series of books published by Helm are just about the best going: Helm Bird Identification Guides.

As well as field guides for identifying bird species, Helm also publish fantastic books that deal specifically with different families of birds. I have a number of these books, as does any serious bird watcher, and I recommend them highly. The books on Gulls, Reed & Bush Warblers, Rails and Wildfowl in particular are really excellent.

Updated: 05/30/2013, nickupton
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AbbyFitz on 02/05/2014

I used to bird watch when I was a girl. I really ought to take the hobby back up again. Great article for bird watching. I like your layout, too. :)

Mira on 02/05/2014

Great page! I have seen some of David Attenborough's documentaries and they are simply magnificent. Also, DK guides seem to do a fabulous time each time. I may get that book. And I'll get David Attenborough's series on birds. Thank you for this page!

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