This is a summary of several of the better books I’ve had the opportunity to review here, organized in general categories. This is written from a North American perspective since most of my readers are North American (though many of you live to the west of the “Eastern Region” … but you probably know that). So, when not specified, a book with a regional focus is likely to be for that area, and the “Outside the US” section is labeled thusly.
Everybody needs a basic field guide. If you need more than one field guide because you are a family of birders, or because you like to keep one in the car and one by the feeder, than make your second (and third?) guides different from your first, because there will be plenty of times you will want to look something up in more than one place. A field guide is a good starting point, but the “How to be a birder” section includes books that you will be very glad you read once you read them, and if you are going to pick one “how to” book for yourself or as a gift, make it the Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding. If you know a young person getting interested in birding, the National Geographic Birding Essentials is essential, and if they are in the Eastern US, the Young Birder’s Guide is perfect.
I’ve not covered bird song here, other than the one, rather spectacular iBook.
Field and Identification Guides
- Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides) and related guides by Peterson (depending on your area) is still, in my opinion, the number one essential guide.
- The Kaufman Field Guide and the Smithsonian Field Guides are excellent second books, following the rule that if you are a birding family and don’t share well, get multiple guides but make them all different from one another.
- The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds is too big to be a field pocketbook but too good, in the way the birds are presented, to not be one of your key books for birding in the region.
- Birds of North America and Greenland is a new guide to supplement the usual guides, covering the western edge of North America and Greenland in more detail than the usual. Maritime and New England birders need this one.
How to be a birder
- National Geographic’s Birding Essentials is for the new birder, covering how birding works, how to use bird guides, etc.
- The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds in Eastern North America is a field guide with help on how to go birding for kids about middle school age.
- How to Be a Better Birder is a more advanced guide but quite accessible to the noobie.
- The Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding … if you don’t have this book you’re doin’ it rong.
- Hawks at a distance is a unique approach to bird identification using long distance photos and a “whole bird” approach.
- Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America falls between the categorial category (a particular type of bird is covered) and academic books.
Regional Bird Guides Outside the US
- South Africa: Birds of Southern Africa is a classic now out in a new edition. Highly recommended.
- South Africa: I discuss two other Southern Africa guides here.
- Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives
- Birds of Central Asia
- Cotingas and Manakins covers a major South and Central American class of birds, is a very new book and is rather spectacular.
- Antarctic Wildlife: A visitor’s Guide is not just birds, but it includes the birds you’d be likely to see on an organized tour of the Southern Continent.
- Birds of the West Indies
- Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire
- The Birds of New Jersey: Status and Distribution
Academic or Topically General Books About Birds
- The Birder’s Handbook is not new but it is fantastic, all about bird ecology and behavioral biology and stuff.
- The Atlas of Birds addresses diversity, behavior, and conservation of birds world wide.
- Bird Migration and Global Change
- How birds migrate
- Three academic books on bird migration
- Avian Architecture: How birds design, engineer, and build is a spectacular overview of bird nesting and related behaviors.
- Living Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds is a high priced academic book that includes a series of scientific studies of bird evolution from Dinosaurs to more recent times.
Bird Song (and more)
- Music of the Birds Volume 1 is an experimental book, in iAuthored iBook format, focusing on a handful of selected species in Eastern North America.
Also, don’t forget to read ALL of my posts at 10,000 birds! There’s some other good posts there too.
9 thoughts on “The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide to Birding Books”
Greg, the link for “Hawks at a distance” leads to your post on Kenn Kaufman’s new “Guide to Advanced Birding.” On the whole, I’d consider that a good trade. Kenn’s book is useful for birders at all levels, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
OTOH, I wouldn’t recommend Jerry Liguori’s “Hawks at a Distance” to anyone who lives away from well-known hawk-watching sites. I made the mistake of purchasing his “Hawks from Every Angle”, and found that it’s really hawks you’ll see from every angle, but only at Cape May, Hawk Mountain, or Duluth. He completely ignored the Southern and Southwestern hawks that interest birders the most. I’ll never buy another of his books, unless I can get it cheap and need a doorstop.
OK, thanks, the link is fixed.
Thanks for the comment on Hawks. It has worked great for me, but I live exactly where it would work best.
This is a problem with any book that uses a lot of photographs, and why (for regular identification guides) drawing are often much better. On the other hand, local books with photos work well, often . I did not discuss any of the local books of this type, but we have some good ones for Minnesota, the Plains and the Great Lakes region for birds. For instance, Birds of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela uses photos (though the birds are organized by color) … I believe they are mostly or entirely local pictures.
Fopr those on the west coast of Canada the 4 volume Birds of British Columbia, series from UBC Press – is very thorough – I have the first 3 volumes and one day when I have a spare $125 I’ll get the 4th. http://www.ubcpress.ca/search/title_book.asp?BookID=1572 is the first volume
I love “Hawks at a Distance” and all the birds that migrate (covers migrant raptors as it says in the book) are presented in the book. Confused by the Pete Moulton comment? “Hawks from Every Angle” covers the migrant raptors too, it has Prairie Falcon, Prairie Merlin, Swainson’s Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Miss Kite, Ferrugionous Hawk, Harlan’s Hawk, etc. Two great books, and drfinitely the most accurate on hawks. JMO, some comments should be taken with a grain of salt. I think Pete Moulton has made a point of dissing Liguori’s books in the past, sounds personal since the comments aren’t justified. I know Liguori lives in Utah, so I don’t know why his books would appear to cater to Eastern hawk watches?
To add to my comments: I was wondering, what hawkwatches are in the “southwest”? And if any, don’t they see Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s and all the other common species in the East? Just curious, and not singling anyone out, just confused that he didn’t recommend a book for the holidays, but chose one to disparage.
Derek, no I don’t have any personal animosity toward Mr Liguori, and in fact have never met him. I purchased his “Hawks from Every Angle” in the mistaken belief that it would cover at least a few more species than it actually does. In fact, excepting only the Zone-tailed Hawk (included because of its superficial resemblance to the Turkey Vulture), all the species the book covers are those expected at the hawkwatch sites I mentioned in my previous comment. The problem isn’t that “all the common species of the East” don’t occur in the Southwest; the problem is that there are several others that occur here as well, and some pose greater or lesser ID difficulties. How, for example, does one separate immature Broad-winged from young Gray or Short-tailed Hawks? The book doesn’t say; and yet all three species occur in Arizona.
Actually, I did recommend a book for the holidays: Kenn Kaufman’s “Focus Guide to Advanced Birding.” No, it doesn’t deal specifically with raptors, but it’s a book every birder will benefit from owning and reading.
To my knowledge the species and subspecies mentioned (Prairie Falcon, Prairie Merlin, Swainson’s, Zone-tailed, Miss Kite, Ferruginous, Harlan’s Hawk, California Red-shoulder) are not seen at the eastern sites. I have never been to many of them but a quick search reveals this.
The book states that it concentrates on common migrants and not uncommon migrating raptors. I think to say the book should be used as a doorstop is odd when it it is chock full of good information and many people find it useful. Just seems that you made it a point to single his books out when there are some real horrible books on birds out there. Hey, if you were disappointed, so be it, that is the beauty of opnions. And yours is respected!!! Funny thing is, in regards to migrant hawks, I think his books have a Western slant.
If anyone wants to really learn flying hawk ID, Liguori’s are the best, I recommend them!
I started on hawks with Dunne, Sutton, Sibley Hawks in Flight first edition many years ago. It was just what I wanted in a bird book, so I didn’t have any hesitation in picking up the second edition when I heard about it (either here or at 10,000 birds). I’m still reading it, but so far I think it is the best hawk book as they’ve incorporated many of Liguori’s points as well as ideas from other experts (caveat: my opinion on this is swayed by my nostalgic fondness for the first edition).
Another bird book someone might like is The Shorebird Guide by O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson. I have a few quibbles (e.g. species descriptions are in one part, photographs in another part so lots of flipping back and forth), but it is a beautiful book and I often just flip through just looking at the pictures rather than reading descriptions.
The problem is that if anyone on your gift list does have an interest in shorebirds, they probably have this book already.
And I’d second many of Greg’s recommendations. E.g. Bird Migration and Global Change (haven’t finished it…I keep rereading the first third of the book).
O/T: decided to pick up the European Chirp app (already had Canadian one). They need to add the scientific names next to the common names (you can get them by clicking on the Wiki link, but they should be next to the bird picture as well). I’d see a bird that looked like one of our North American birds and wonder if it was the same species with a different common name, or a completely different species altogether.
To go just a little beyond paper books, Audubon Birds for Android (and I suppose for iThings) is pretty good. It has songs/calls for most species in addition to the usual photos and descriptions, and lets you log sightings, etc.