The 12 Best Books About Birds And Birding In 2016 – Forbes
This list will help you fulfill your New Year’s resolution to read (or read more) books — and you don’t even need to love birds to find something wonderful on this list
You may recall that I was a judge for the 2016 Royal Society Insight Investment popular Science Book Prize. So in addition to my usual reading material (scientific research papers and a variety of books), I read the entire longlist for that prize — which means I’ve read a total of more than one hundred (mostly science) books.
Because I was a judge for that prize, I was uncomfortable writing my usual, detailed book reviews because I didn’t want to give the impression of favoritism. Now that the winner of that prize has been announced, I am returning to my game: I am sharing some of the books published in 2016 that inspired me, and gave me great joy. As I’ve said throughout much of this year, the overall quality of science books has improved tremendously, such that 2016 includes the finest group of popular science books ever published, in my opinion. And after reading these books, I think you’ll agree with me.
A detailed exploration of everything that is remarkable about birds’ eggs, working from the outside inwards. The author, Tim Birkhead, who is a professor of behavior and evolution at the University of Sheffield, is a respected ornithologist who has published a number of superb and widely-acclaimed books about various avian topics throughout the years. Yet, despite his academic achievements, reading this book feels like I’m having a particularly interesting conversation with the author. I especially love his enthusiasm and his ability to interweave his research and interesting scientific facts with history and a feeling for place, and strong storytelling into an engaging and accessible book.
The Most Perfect Thing was shortlisted for 2016 Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize.
If you like words, birds and words about birds, Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks is the book for you. Witty yet brilliant, this book explores the origins of many birds’ common and scientific names, and shines a light on the long relationship between birds, people and language. Although the author focuses on British birds (and on the Queen’s English), there is plenty of overlap between U.S. and UK birds (such as loons and scoters, just to name a few), so American birders and logophiles from around the world will learn a lot about birds — and words — by reading this book.
Intelligence is presumed to be the sole domain of most humans, a few great ape species, and dolphins, so it’s probably no surprise that many people overlook or belittle the intelligence of birds. This fascinating and surprisingly concise book explores the fundamental question of what is intelligence, then moves on to meticulously refute the “bird brain” myth. To argue his case, the author, a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, discusses the neuroscience underlying clever crows and perceptive parrots as well as a variety of other bird species. This oversized book is a pleasure to read, and I especially love the richly detailed illustrations and how they highlight the concepts presented.
Tool-making birds are no longer unusual. Nor are birds who deceive or manipulate others. Some birds even hold “funerals” for flockmates and appear to grieve when a mate dies. In this intriguing book, the author travels to labs and research centers around the world to bring us stories about the intelligence of birds. She details how the study of the structure of bird brains is deepening our view of how brains function and what it means to be intelligent. This book explores some of the same topics as Bird Brain but in more detail, making these two titles good companion volumes.
Written by poet and nature writer Matt Merritt, A Sky Full of Birds is a lovely paean to the particular wonders of watching wild birds. In this book, we tag along with the author as he travels from one great avian gathering to another around the British isles — from ravens in Anglesey to the nightingales of Kent. The author’s expertise, which is considerable, is artfully combined with a trove of scientific information, and presented in an enjoyable way without ever alienating the inexpert reader. This sweet little book book will find its greatest appeal with beginning bird watchers, and with travelers who dream of birding the British Isles. I think that non-bird watchers who love excellent nature writing will also appreciate this book.
Pete Dunne has a distinct way of seeing and living in the world, and this is reflected in his writing, which is informative and often humorous. Author of more than a dozen books (all of which I’ve read at one time or another), this long-anticipated book is the first that he’s published in more than 10 years. As a lifelong birder, the author is a keen observer of both birds and the people who watch them, and in these 33 essays, he once again demonstrates his skill at telling a story whilst retaining an appreciation for nature and for the wacky.
Bird watching is a casual pastime for many people, but for some of us, it blossoms into a full-fledged passion. Such was the case for Neil Hayward. In 2013, he was faced with a mid-life crisis after his relationship had crashed and burned, and he quit his lucrative but boring job. He was depressed and lost. To save himself, he did what any reasonable person would do: he went birding. As his list of birds grew, he unexpectedly found himself on a race to see more birds in one year than any other person — a Big Year. In this memoir, we follow Neil’s adventures through 28 states and six provinces in search of rare species to add to his list. Amazingly, despite his tenuous start, Neil ended up seeing a total of 749 species of birds — breaking the Big Year record. But even more important than breaking records, Neil found himself and a sense of peace along the way.
Do you wish to pursue your dreams? In this remarkable book, the author, birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma, did just that when he set out on a bicycle journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, recording the songs of birds along the way. Accompanied by his adult son, the author shares stories about the birds, the landscapes, and the people they meet on their 5,000-mile journey. Drawings of birds and the countryside fill this handsomely produced book, and the author’s birdsong recordings can be accessed from QR codes in the margins. This gorgeous book combines history, geology, travel, bicycling, family relationships and birdsong into one irresistible adventure. I especially enjoyed how the author draws the reader into the places that he experienced through the use of sound.
In this lyrical debut, the author, James Macdonald Lockhart, recreates the epic trek undertaken by nearly-forgotten ornithologist William MacGillivray, who walked from Aberdeen to the Natural History Museum in London, in 1819. Each chapter focuses on one of the 15 species of raptors found in the British Isles, from iconic Hen Harriers that are still mercilessly persecuted to the edge of extinction to the Osprey in the Moray Firth whose population was nearly decimated by egg hunters. Although this beautifully-written book serves as a good introduction to MacGillivray, it works best as a travelogue through the British Isles since it provides disappointingly little information about the conservation of the very birds that inspired the author. However, the prose is so lovely that you may find yourself pondering whether this really is Lockhart’s first book.
Any wildlife photographer knows that visually stunning images are the result of research and preparation — and patience. This gorgeous book by award-winning photographer Paul Bannick demonstrates the rewards of years of intense preparation with every astonishing photograph that graces every single page. But this oversized book is much more than a “Coffee Table book:” it also is a beautifully written description of owls’ entire life cycle from hatching until death, and it knits together relevant scientific literature with the author’s experiences and observations. Although the author focuses his attention on four owl species (Northern Pygmy, Burrowing, Great Gray and Snowy), living in four habitats (forest, grassland and steppe, boreal and Arctic), in all four seasons, all 19 North American owl species are depicted in this book.
Owls are popular in the public imagination, but most people have never seen one in the wild. The author of this book aims to entertain by sharing her owl adventures in the field, and by discussing mythology and “owl obsession.” She does include some information about owl calls and natural history of nine North American owl species, but this information is superficial. A fairly quick read, this non-specialist book will be most appreciated by those who lack a deep knowledge of owls but seek a light introduction with some general information about them.
This is a comprehensive resource for everyone interested in learning more about birds. Written by a team of experts from around the world, this essential volume covers all aspects of avian diversity, behaviour, ecology, evolution, physiology and conservation. It shares and explains important scientific discoveries about birds and provides the essential background for a deeper understanding and enjoyment of birds and their lives. Whether you’re a birder, aviculturist, a student of ornithology, resource manager or conservation biologist, this completely updated book is an indispensable and readable resource that you will refer to often.