The 19 Best Bird Watching Books to Read This Year
It’s not that I don’t appreciate or like field guides, they are an essential part of any bird watchers library.
But this list of the 19 best bird watching books was created for books that you WANT to read. To make it onto this list, you must actually be excited to sit down at read at night and NOT immediately fall asleep!
I have separated the 19 best bird watching books into a few different categories:
- Education AND Entertainment (4 books)
- Tips and Tricks (4 books)
- Big Years and Listing (4 books)
- “Feel Good” Books (3 books)
- Biographies of Great Birders (4 books)
I love reading books and it’s one of my favorite birding tips –> 13 Actionable Bird Watching Tips for Beginners.
Before we get started on the list of books, I wanted to share two pieces of advice that have helped and encouraged me to read more!
Tip #1: Go to the Library.
You will notice that most of the links for each book takes you to Amazon. This is where I purchase most of my books but also read a better description and also check out some very detailed reviews left by other people.
Buying a lot of books though can get very expensive! And I am pretty cheap… I mean frugal. My tip for avoiding this is to go check them out from your local library. It’s free!
- World Cat : The World’s Largest Library Catalog
- Type in a book and it will show you the closest library that book is available! Please note that not every library participates.
Tip #2: Listen to books in your car.
The average person spends 17,600 minutes in their car EVERY year. That breaks down to about 5 and a half hours per week. Think how much you could accomplish and learn during your daily commute and weekly errands. I use Audible from Amazon to download and listen to books in my car every month.
Ok, let’s get started!
Best Bird Watching Books: Education AND Entertainment
I love learning about birds but also love a good and entertaining story. These books do a great job of combining the two together.
#1 The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
The author goes on a scientific exploration around the world to learn and explore bird intelligence.
Anyone that reads this book will immediately question the assumption that birds are dumb or someone has a “birdbrain.”
This is a highly entertaining journey that touches on many stories and species of birds. It mixes science and entertainment together well, anyone I know would enjoy this book, not just my friends who like birding!
#2 The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker
This book explores the unknown intelligence of birds from all around the world. From the extraordinary homing abilities of pigeons to the amazing memories of nutcrackers.
Strycker does a fine job of educating readers but also weaves in captivating stories and humor.
On a side note, Noah Strycker has a book coming out Fall 2017 I am excited to read. It details his around the world journey to break the global Big Year record in 2015-> Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World.
#3 Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans by John Marzluff and Tony Angell
You will never look at a crow the same!
Crows have brains that are way to big for their bodies, but this allows them to think, plan and consider their actions. The authors team up to tell wonderful stories of the high intelligence of crows.
From gathering around their dead to recognizing people to even committing murder of other crows!
#4 Handbook of Bird Biology (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology) by Irvy Lovette and John Fitzpatrick
This is the ultimate book to purchase to have a deeper understanding of our avian friends.
Even though it’s over 700 pages, it does not read like a textbook! I think it’s a great edition to anyone’s library who enjoys birds; from casual back yard birder to ornithology students to serious big listers.
Best Birding Books: Tips and Tricks
#5 Bird Watching for Dummies by William Thompson III
Are you just starting your birding adventure? Not sure what this crazy obsession is all about?
This is a great book for absolute beginners. I originally read many years ago to try and get up to speed as quickly as possible. Even though it’s 20 years old, the information is still accurate and useful. It’s very easy to read and designed to skip around to the sections that are relevant to you.
It’s written by Bill Thompson III, the editor of Bird Watchers Digest who is still one of the most active birders you will find.
#6 Sibley’s Birding Basics: How to Identify Birds, Using the Clues in Feathers, Habitats, Behaviors, and Sounds by David Allen Sibley
This book is a perfect complement to the author’s field guides (Sibley’s Bird’s East and West) as it builds upon the basic skills of bird identification. It has helped me immensely, both in the field and using my field guides.
Sibley gives great information to help make a positive identification. He offers advice on lots of topics, from sketching birds in the field to feathers shapes to an analysis of different birding gear.
#7 Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tips From North America’s Top Birders by Lisa White and Peter Dunne
Highly entertaining and very informative. This book has 50 different essays from the top birders across the country and covers all sorts of topics; from birding with your kids to keeping your gear and equipment clean to covering some of the weird taboo’s of birding.
A great book to read when you need to laugh or just recapture some of your birding enthusiasm. I recommend this book to beginners and experts alike.
#8 Good Birders Still Don’t Wear White by Lisa White and Jeff Gordon
Recently released, this book is the sequel to book #7. It follows the same concept as the original with birders sharing their wisdom and advice and what drives their passion for birds. It also covers a wide range of topics and it’s an easy book to skip around in and find your favorite articles.
Contributors include many well-known birders, such as Richard Crossley, Pete Dunne, Kenn Kaufman, Michael O’Brien, Bill Thompson, and Julie Zickefoose.
Best Birding Books: Big Years and Listing
I think most of us dream of the day we can drop everything and spend the year trying to see as many birds as possible. Warning! Reading any of these books will only make you want to pursue a “Big Year” even more!
#9 The Big Year by Mark Obmascik
This book was turned into a movie a few years ago. It’s a great way to get introduced to the crazy annual competition of who can see the most birds in a year. Trust me, it will get you thinking how you can accomplish your own big year.
#10 To See Every Bird On Earth by Dan Koeppel
I originally checked it out from the library as an audio book and subsequently listened to it 3 times through. It does a nice job of introducing some of the oddities of the birding subculture and also illustrates how bird watching can turn into an obsession at the expense of your family.
#11 Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman
Many of us have dreamed about completing our own “big year”. Now imagine hitting the road as a teenager without much money, mostly hitch hiking your way across the country.
Kenn Kaufman has become one of the biggest names in birding, but it all started in the early 70’s when he tried to set the North American big year record.
I love this book for its adventure and insights into the birding subculture more than 40 years ago! Birding has come a long way.
#12 Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year by Neil Hayward
Easy answer. Go birding! Or at least that is what author Neil Hayward did.
He started his “Big Year” in 2013 mostly as a distraction, but ended up breaking the longstanding ABA Big Year record…. sort of accidentally 🙂 This book is very entertaining with lots of great stories and explores the human element of birding.
Best “Feel Good” Books About Birds
If you loved the movie “Marley and Me” then check out these books. They all show what a profound effect birds can have on us humans.
#13 Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien
This book details the charming story of Wesley, the Barn Owl that was adopted by the author and biologist, Stacey O’Brien, because of a badly injured wing.
As the author raises Wesley, she develops her own language of communication with him and continues to discover all sorts of things about owl behavior and intelligence.
The book has a lot of interesting facts about owls, but more than anything it reads like an entertaining novel with great stories of their relationship. From learning how to feed Wesley thousands of mice to him helping O’Brien through her illness, this book is highly recommended for a fun read.
#14 The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned From a Remarkable Bird by Tom Michell
I am always a sucker for anything penguin related and this book is no exception.
The author, Tom Michell, rescues a baby penguin covered in oil from a spill on the beaches of Uruguay. He tries to set him free but the penguin keeps returning to his side.
“That was the moment at which he became my penguin, and whatever the future held, we’d face it together.” – Michell
The rest of the book is the charming and funny stories of raising the penguin, named Juan Salvador, in an apartment as the assistant master of a boarding school. Great book for all ages!
#15 Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene Pepperberg
This book chronicles the 30-year relationship between Alex, an African Grey Parrot, and the author. Pepperberg was able to teach him over 100 words and answer questions about colors, shapes and the number of objects. Alex changed the way that scientists and people have viewed the cognitive abilities of birds.
Pepperberg wrote this book after Alex died in 2007 and is a wonderful tribute to a bird she spent so much time with. She does a great job of telling many great stories about Alex but interweaving all of the ground-breaking work they accomplished together.
Some of the best birders and fore fathers of modern birding have some AMAZING stories.
#16 Birding on Borrowed Time by Phoebe Snetsinger
Told in her own words, Phoebe set out after a cancer diagnosis gave her one year to live to see as many birds as possible. Somehow she managed to live 17 more years and be the first person to document seeing over 8,000 different species of birds!
Additional Reading about Phoebe Snetsinger:
- Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile
- This is a biography written about Phoebe that explores her obsession with birds and listing at all costs. I think if you read one of these books you need to read the other!
#17 John James Audubon: The Making of an American by Richard Rhodes
The man, the myth, the legend. Any new bird watchers should ground themselves and show some respect to one of the founding fathers of birding! It’s a long read but worth the effort.
#18 Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Elizabeth Rosenthal
Peterson is the architect who made bird watching what it is today. He is known for many things, including his landmark field guides, illustrations and most notably his dedication to bird and conversation.
This book details many aspects of his life as the author interviewed 116 people who knew him.
Here are two other Roger Tory Peterson books worth reading:
- All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures by Roger Tory Peterson
- Peterson wrote a column for Bird Watchers digest from 1984 to 1996. This is a collection of his best essays that appeared during that time.
- Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher
- In 1953 Peterson and Fisher set off on a 30,000 miles trip around America documenting what they saw. An amazing road trip book that will instantly inspire you to hit the road!
#19 Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul
Birding is considered a fun activity enjoyed by millions, but it was once just an eccentric hobby. This is a great book to learn about the evolution of birding throughout the years to see how it became what it is today.
Instead of reading the full biographies listed above, this book hits on all of the key figures and “fore fathers” of American birding and recognizes the achievements of birders throughout history.
Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite birding and bird watching books?
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