Books

The 12 Best Bird Books of 2015

Our favorite reads of the year include a guide to the world of gonzo birds, a best-selling falconry memoir, field handbooks, and more.

Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

1. North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide
By George C. West
University of New Mexico Press, 256 pages, $20.05

Identifying hummingbirds can be tricky: Sometimes the little speedballs just look like blurs of color. But zoologist George West makes it easier with his new guide, which provides detailed references and illustrations for all 17 species of North American hummers—plus information on eight rarities. Descriptions of each bird’s shape, proportions, feather pattern, behavior, and vocalizations provide further clues for diagnosis.

 

2. A Snowy Owl Story
By Melissa Kim; illustrations by Jada Fitch
Islandport Press and Maine Audubon, 24 pages, $10.95

A Snowy Owl Story isn’t just another cute kids book; it’s full of science and purpose. Based on true events, the story follows a golden-eyed Snowy Owl from the Arctic as it journeys across the continent to an abandoned building in Maine. Beautifully illustrated with easy-to-read text, the book teaches children about the bird’s habitat and diet, and also shows them how to help an avian in need.

 

3. Better Birding: Tips, Tools, and Concepts for the Field
By George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan
Princeton University Press, 316 pages, $24.23

Want to be a real birder but don’t know how to sharpen your skills? This book will teach you how to identify birds with ease and speed. George Armistead, an ornithologist at Drexel University, and Brian Sullivan, editor for "Birds of North America Online," share expert techniques for IDing different groups of birds. The book also shows how habitat and behavior can be used as crucial tools for birding.

 

4. The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
By Gerrit Vyn
Mountaineers Books, 208 pages, $29.95

Simple yet stunning images of Greater Sage-Grouse chicks, a Belted Kingfisher, a baby Sandhill Crane, and Brown Pelicans fill the pages of Gerrit Vyn’s new photography book, which celebrates avian conservation, as well as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s 100th anniversary. Read more about the book and check out some of the selections here.

 

5. Birds of South America: Passerines
By Ber van Perlo
Princeton University Press, 464 pages, $23.93

Tody-flycatchers, euphonias, and horneros are just a few of the mystical songbirds that dwell in and around South America. This guide, by award-winning author and illustrator Ber van Perlo, includes all 1,952 passerine species found in south Panama, along with islands such as Trinidad, the Falklands, and the Galapagos. Each species profile is paired with an illustrated plate and a mini distribution map to narrow the field.

 

6. Gods of the Morning: A Bird’s-Eye View of a Changing World
By John Lister-Kaye
Pegasus Books, 304 pages, $22.65

For decades British naturalist John Lister-Kaye has watched climate change wreak havoc on the wildlife in the Scottish Highlands. In Gods of the Morning, he shares those observations through deeply immersive tales about Rooks, cranes, and other species, bookended with childhood memories and social criticism. Lister-Kaye’s writing thrives on intimacy and realism, without sacrificing its lyrical air.

 

7. Birding for the Curious: The Easiest Way for Anyone to Explore the Incredible World of Birds
By Nate Swick
Page Street Publishing Co., 176 pages, $21.99

Intrigued by birding but not ready to dive in just yet? This beginners guide is the perfect solution! Nate Swick, an editor for the American Birding Association and blogger at “10,000 Birds,” covers all the essentials in 10 breezy chapters, including how to choose a field guide, how to buy the right suet for your feeders, and even how to look like a birder. Self-help literature has never been more energizing.

 

8. Water Babies: The Hidden Lives of Baby Wetland Birds
By William Burt
The Countryman Press, 208 pages, $21.69

Photographer William Burt spent years combing the nooks and crannies of the swamps of North America to bring us the many cute, awkward portraits in Water Babies. The darling images are coupled with notes about the birds’ behaviors and stories from Burt’s escapades in the field. See a few of Burt's photos here.

 

9. Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean
By Scott Weidensaul
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pages, $27.02

There’s no such thing as too many owls—even with expert Scott Weidensaul’s comprehensive new guide, which holds every single owl species in North America. Balsas Screech-Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owls, and Spectacled Owls stare out from the pages filled with facts on nesting habits, behaviors, and calls. It's the first North American owl book to include Caribbean species, which is great, since vagrants can pop up anytime, anywhere. 

 

10. H is for Hawk
By Helen Macdonald
Grove Press, 300 pages, $18.20

While grappling with the unexpected death of her father, writer and falconer Helen Macdonald decides to channel her grief into training a Northern Goshawk—one of the most vicious predators of the skies. H is for Hawk is a riveting read that explores life and death, love, and hate, through a fierce woman and the even-fiercer animal that changes her life. Don't just take our word for it: The book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Nonfiction. Read one of the most dramatic excerpts here.

 

11. Nextinction
By Ralph Steadman and Ceri Levy
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 224 pages, $30.00

While visiting Ralph Steadman’s mythical Toadstool Island, you may encounter a Blue-beaked Waddle drinking birdseed moonshine, a smudge of an Ollieblot, a Red-headed Vulture cleaning up a crime scene, or even a multi-headed Yellow-beaked Red-legged Bluet. These are just a few of the creations that are unveiled in the famed gonzo artist’s latest book. Learn more about Steadman's fantastical collection and see some of his illustrations here.

 

12. EGG: Nature’s Perfect Package
By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 32 pages, $12.93

A pipe-nosed kiwi breaking free from its egg; an Egyptian vulture using a rock to smash open an Ostrich egg; a wily cowbird sneaking her egg into a bluebird’s nest . . . see the trend? This picture book is bursting with ingenious egg illustrations, made from sheared and layered paper mache, and singsong-y lines about each creature. Find out more about the artists' inventive process here.