Notable bird books of 2011: Year-end roundup
Appraisals of the sixth edition of the National Geographic field guide, Laura Erickson's illustrated book about owls, a collection of beautiful photographs of bird nests, and 11 other new books, including three that will appeal to birdwatchers of any ages. Written by the editors of BirdWatching magazine.
Published: October 21, 2011
|We’ve sifted through the latest offerings from the bird-book publishers and are pleased to present a top-notch collection of titles in this end-of-the-year roundup. |
It includes a gorgeous ode to owls from our friend Laura Erickson, a timely, important book about the Cerulean Warbler, three stories that young readers will enjoy, and a fascinating history of bird field guides.
Speaking of field guides, on our blog we interview Jonathan Alderfer, lead illustrator of the excellent new National Geographic guide. Also on our blog, photographer Sharon Beals describes what inspired her as she created her stunning book, simply titled Nests.
The Bird Photography Field Guide: The Essential Handbook for Capturing Birds with Your Digital SLR by David Tipling, Focal Press, 2011, 192 pages, $15.95, paperback.
Photo tips from a pro
If you want to start taking pictures of birds, or if you want to take better bird pictures, we’re happy to recommend David Tipling’s compact, informative guide. Tipling, one of the world’s best bird photographers, explains how to select cameras, lenses, and other equipment, how to photograph in backyards and the field, how to edit your photos, and how to get published.
The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield by Laurence Sheehan, Clarkson Potter, 2011, 240 pages, $50, hardcover.|
In this coffee-table book, Laurence Sheehan shows us lifestyles of the rich and famous and feathered — the Audubon-themed entryway of conservationist Donal O’Brien’s house, the eggs and specimens of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, field trips to Central Park, Magee Marsh, and High Island, and countless bird prints, sculptures, pillows, table settings, textiles, and bookcases, not to mention Kenn Kaufman in the field and David Sibley at home.
Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird by Katie Fallon, Ruka Press, 2011, 224 pages, $17.95, paperback.|
Hope for Ceruleans
The Cerulean Warbler population has dropped by 80 percent in the last 40 years. Author Katie Fallon investigates the decline and visits breeding areas from West Virginia to Tennessee and the wintering range in Colombia. In the biologists she meets, she finds the birds have “many admirers who are working hard to save them.”
The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation by Mike Unwin, Princeton University Press, 2011, 144 pages, $22.95, paperback.|
Birds from pole to pole
In 144 concise, colorful pages, British birder Mike Unwin covers the world of birds: where and how they live, how they’re distributed around the globe, and the threats they face. Plus, he profiles efforts to help birds, including work to restore Great Bustards in England and Marbled Teal in Iraq. His bottom line? Conservation works.
Twelve Owls by Laura Erickson, Betsy Bowen (Illustrator), University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 64 pages, $19.95, hardcover.|
Writer and bird rehabilitator Laura Erickson profiles each of the 12 owls found in her home state of Minnesota, including Long-eared and Snowy, Great Gray, Northern Hawk, and Boreal — species that make the state a hot destination for cold-weather birders. Erickson relates the natural history of each bird and then goes further, telling stories about individual owls or sightings as only she can. Award-winning artist Betsy Bowen provides the illustrations, giving Erickson’s birds soulful, attention-grabbing, penetrating eyes.
On Rare Birds by Anita Albus, Lyons Press, 2011, 288 pages, $24.95, hardcover.
German author Anita Albus looks with fresh eyes at the Passenger Pigeon, Spix’s Macaw, Northern Hawk Owl, and other rare or extinct birds and finds not only fascinating wild creatures but also their significance to human culture. She illustrates the book with her own exquisite paintings and those of artists dating back nearly 500 years.
The Art of Bird Finding: Before You ID Them, You Have to See Them by Pete Dunne, Stackpole Books, 2011, 96 pages, $14.95, paperback.|
Birding with the best
Another gem from Contributing Editor Pete Dunne. This one is full of tips and insights on finding birds — what to listen for, motion to watch for, how weather affects bird behavior, and other techniques sure to improve your skills. The bonus is that in addition to Pete’s birding know-how, we get a full dose of his wit and charm.
In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders and Their Guides by Thomas R. Dunlap, Oxford University Press, 2011, 256 pages, $34.95, hardcover.|
Our hobby’s history
Florence Merriam published Birds through an Opera-Glass in 1889. Ever since, authors have created books that help people identify birds. Historian Thomas Dunlap traces the development of field guides from Merriam to Peterson to Sibley. In the process, Dunlap explores with keen insight the history of birdwatching.
Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build by Peter Goodfellow, Princeton University Press, 2011, 160 pages, $27.95, hardcover.|
Those amazing nests
Exceptional illustrations and photographs help author Peter Goodfellow describe scrapes in the dirt, tunnels, domes, mounds, cups, and other types of nests birds build. The book’s jaw-dropping scenes include a hornbill sealed in a nest hole, a colony of densely packed albatrosses, and the many colorful walkways made by bowerbirds.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer, National Geographic Books, 2011, 576 pages, $27.95, paperback.|
Up-to-date guide to the changing roster of North American birds
There is nothing permanent except change. To keep up with the rapidly evolving world of North American birds, you need an up-to-date field guide. The most current printed guide available, the sixth edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, still relies on illustrations, not photographs, but it’s longer than the fifth, and it contains descriptions of no fewer than 990 species, 23 more than the earlier edition. (The additions are all new to North America.) The recent taxonomic changes made by the American Ornithologists’ Union are here, as are updated range maps and fun new subspecies maps. Associate Editor Matt Mendenhall recently interviewed lead illustrator Jonathan Alderfer about the guide. Read their conversation on our Field of View blog.
Top-flight books for young readers
Children’s authors who write books about birds sometimes make the mistake of rattling off lots of facts about a species in place of telling a story that engages kids’ imaginations. Here are three books, recommended by my 10-year-old daughter Megan, by authors who understand that story comes first.
Hoot, published in 2002, was Carl Hiaasen’s first book for young readers. It tells the story of three middle-school-age kids in Miami who try to stop the construction of a pancake house because it would wipe out a colony of Burrowing Owls. They have to outwit a cop, the construction foreman, and the pancake PR man to save the day. (Megan also recommends the 2006 movie based on the book.)
In The Legend Awakes, the delightful first book of Georgia Anne Butler’s Of the Wing trilogy, 11-year-old birdwatcher Claire and a classmate attempt to save a Red-tailed Hawk from a neighbor intent on shooting it.
Finally, the 1958 novel Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes, re-released in 2000, is a kid’s book that has stood the test of time. The Pye family spends a summer on an island so Papa, a famous ornithologist, can study its birds. No one in the family suspects that they have a feathered guest, a friend’s lost pet owl, living in their attic. —M.M.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004, 304 pages, $8.95, paperback.
Of the Wing: The Legend Awakes by Georgia Anne Butler, Pinchey House Press, 2010, 204 pages, $7.99, paperback.
Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes, Sandpiper Press, 1958, 2000, 272 pages, $6.99, paperback.
Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds That Built Them by Sharon Beals (Photographer), Chronicle Books, 2011, 120 pages, $29.95, hardcover.|
50 photos that blur the boundaries between science and art
Beautiful but so difficult to see well — that’s what you could say about many of the mobile and wary birds that share our planet. And you could say the same about the well-hidden, frequently camouflaged nests in which birds lay and protect their eggs. How often we’ve wished for a way to study them, to marvel at their fragility and ingenuity, without disturbing the important work that takes place in them. That’s why we were delighted by Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds That Built Them by San Francisco photographer Sharon Beals. Her tack-sharp images make artwork of even the slightest nest. Editor Chuck Hagner talked with Beals recently. The interview is on our blog.