Bird Book List

For when we can’t be outdoors birding in the field, we could always read about birds while indoors. After I had set up a “Coffee, Tea, and Poetry” event with Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center, I thought it would be fun to create a “Read and Recommended” book list for birders, too. These books are not field guides or reference works, but instead they are about travel, the birding culture, research, and the life histories of various species. These volumes were recommended by board members. If you have a book that you would like to recommend, you can send the title, author, publisher and brief description to me at bees2@sbcglobal.net. Literature about birds and their habitats—almost as good as reading the book of nature itself! Salvatore Salerno

The Species Seekers by Richard Coniff (Norton 2011). This book reads like a connected series of adventure stories, as Coniff portrays amateur naturalists from the mid-18th to the early 20th centuries who roam the earth to discover new plant and animal species. These almost exclusively European white men are by turns brave and reckless in the quests. The expected racism, colonialism, and unhealthy competition are seldom far from the surface of these stories. You’ve been warned.

Birders: Tales of a Tribe by Mark Cocker (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002). If you enjoy the eccentric humor and obsessions of British birders, you will appreciate this author’s unique take on the quirks, failures, and triumphs of twitchers and their ilk.

Eye of the Albatross:; Visions of Hope and Survival by Carl Safina (Holt, 2002). This nature writer takes us through the long journeys of albatrosses and other marine life throughout the Pacific Ocean, as well as illuminating other seafaring voyages of human explorers.

Rare Bird by Maria Mudd Ruth (Rodale, 2005). This book explores the secretive life of the marbled murrelet, an endangered seabird that nests in the old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest. The locations of these nests remained unknown for nearly two centuries after Captain Cook, even though the indigenous people told them where to look.

The Cry of the Sandhill Crane by Steve Grooms (North Word Press, 1992). This well-illustrated book describes the status and life cycles of all six subtypes of Sandhill Cranes. These charismatic dancing birds are is among the oldest lineage of birds on earth.

The Return of the Condor by John Moir (Lyons Press, 2006). Moir chronicles the efforts of the dedicated biologists at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who worked to save the California condor from extinction. These huge, iconic birds numbered only 27 in 1987, and although members of the condor recovery program had been trying to help the population recover in the wild, all but one of the birds lived in captivity.

A Supremely Bad Idea (Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All) by Luke Dempsey (Bloomsbury USA, 2008). Hilarious journey around America to find the rarest and most beautiful birds.

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich (Summit Books,1989). An interesting study of raven behavior, particularly on food-sharing in winter.

Wild America: The Record of a 30,000 Mile Journey Around the Continent by a Distinguished Naturalist and His British Colleague by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher (Weathervane Books, 1955). In April of 1953, naturalists Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher set out on a 100-day journey across North America, from Newfoundland to Alaska, by way of Mexico! The book they co-authored is a record of their journey and the wildlife they encountered along the way.

Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul by Scott Weidensaul (North Point Press, 2005). Fifty years after Peterson and Fisher's journey across North America, naturalist and author Scott Weidensaul retraced their steps to tell the story of Wild America at the turn of the 21st century, discovering what has changed and what has remained the same. Weidensaul discusses the state of nature in North America and the biggest environmental issues of our time.

Bird Brains by Candace Savage (Greystone Books, 2018). This lavishly illustrated coffee table book celebrates the beauty and intelligence of sixteen species of the Corvid family of birds throughout North America and Europe.

Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman (Houghton Mifflin,1997). A coming-of-age story of a teenager who drops out of school to hitchhike across the North America on a quest to set a record for number of bird species seen, and in the process develops a deeper understanding of both the natural and the human world.

Birds of North America by Noel Grove (Hugh Lauter Leven Associates, Inc. 1996). A coffee table book showcasing a collection of over 200 beautiful photographs by some of America’s most renowned nature photographers. This book allows one to see a wide variety of birds up close and discover more about their lives.

Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird by Katie Fallon (Brandeis University Press, 2017). The author follows a year in the life of a typical American Turkey Vulture, and in doing so, she makes the readers appreciate and respect this misunderstood and often maligned scavenger.

Eskimo Year by George Miksch Sutton (MacMillan Press, 1934) In 1929-30, ornithologist and bird artist George M. Sutton spent a year living on Southampton Island, in Hudson’s Bay, Canada. The book describes his experiences among the Inuit people and studying birds. His field work was the basis for his Ph.D. thesis at Cornell, after which he spent 11 years as curator of birds, ending his academic career at the University of Oklahoma. Fantastic descriptions of the Arctic environment. Some reprinted editions lack the photos and Sutton’s illustrations, so look for library copy if you can’t find an original.

Return to Warden’s Grove by Christopher Norment, University of Iowa Press, 2008). Norment writes about his studies of Harris’s Sparrow in the taiga of the Canadian Arctic. Working from a primitive cabin, Norment spent three field seasons studying this species. A great story of life in the field.

Birding without Borders by Noah Strycker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). The author chronicles the trials and tribulations of setting a new record for a World Big Year in 2015. His ability to overcome many obstacles, recruit enthusiastic birders to support his efforts worldwide, and find great birds makes this a fantastic read.

The Birds: Our Teachers by John Stott (2011). Renowned birder and theologian, John Stott uses habits and characteristics of birds to teach some lessons on life (what he terms ‘orni-theology’).

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin, 2017). is a scientific investigation and travelogue. She presents the latest findings on birds’ brains. You will have a new appreciation for the incredible talents of birds.

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich (Harper Perennial, 2007). Another of his books about ravens is already on the list, but this book gives a vivid picture of a raven’s world. As a scientist and naturalist, the author makes field research come alive as he journeys around the world.

The Ardent Birder On the Craft of Bird Watching by Todd Newberry, illustrations by Gene Holtan (Ten Speed Press, 2005).

Snooping, stalking, pishing; the pleasures of songbirding in the rain; the anxieties of birding far from home; the complexities of identifying birds by sound. These are some of the matters Todd Newberry has been pondering over a lifetime of birdwatching. Here in fifty eloquently written short pieces, he shares copious suggestions for how beginner- and intermediate-level birders can hone their habits in the field. Newberry's wise observations of birders' experiences, both universal and personal, imbue The Ardent Birder with the companionship and skill of a truly great guide.

Pete Dunne on Bird Watching: The How-to, Where-to, and When-to of Birding (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003).

The best practices for a lifetime of birding pleasure from Pete Dunne, the man the Wall Street Journal called "the bard of birding". [I personally think that this should be a must read for every beginning birder, and a suggested read for every other birder. I think even advanced birders could learn a thing-or-three from this book.]

The Log From The Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics, 1951). Steinbeck joined his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, in 1940 on a six-week marine specimen-collecting expedition by boat in Baja California's Gulf or Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck described the gulls and pelicans he saw and discussed Charles Darwin, taxonomy, natural and cultural history.

The Mountains of California by John Muir (Penguin Classics, 1894. Muir wrote this book as a culmination of traveling and studying California for ten years. He also shared observations of the water ouzel, or American Dipper in his so-called Range of Light.