10 Great Book on (B)irds
Book List No. 2 in our A-Z 10 Great Books.
1. The Birds of Heaven: Travels With Cranes by Peter Matthiessen
In legend, cranes often figure as harbingers of heaven and omens of longevity and good fortune. And in nature, they are an “umbrella species” whose well-being assures that of the ecosystem at large. The Birds of Heaven chronicles Peter Matthiessen’s many journeys on five continents in search of the fifteen species of cranes. His telling captures the dilemmas of a planet in ecological crisis, and the deep loss to humankind if these beautiful and imposing creatures are allowed to disappear.
2. Mind Of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich
Heinrich involves us in his quest to get inside the mind of the raven. But as animals can only be spied on by getting quite close, Heinrich adopts ravens, thereby becoming a “raven father,” as well as observing them in their natural habitat. He studies their daily routines, and in the process, paints a vivid picture of the ravens’ world. At the heart of this book are Heinrich’s love and respect for these complex and engaging creatures, and through his keen observation and analysis, we become their intimates too. Heinrich’s passion for ravens has led him around the world in his research. Mind of the Raven follows an exotic journey; from New England to Germany, and from Montana to Baffin Island in the high Arctic; offering dazzling accounts of how science works in the field, filtered through the eyes of a passionate observer of nature. Each new discovery and insight into raven behavior is thrilling to read, at once lyrical and scientific.
3. Sentinel Chickens: What Birds Tell Us About Our Health And Our World by Peter Doherty
‘The idea of ‘sentinel chickens’ seemed pretty incongruous when I first heard the phrase as a young undergraduate … The notion of the humble chicken waiting like a trained soldier, alert and focused, for some unseen and approaching enemy just didn’t seem likely. Hens en grade!’ And yet guard they do. Not only chickens, but puffins, eagles, canaries and toucans- birds of all kinds are recruited by humans to help us interpret changes in our increasingly challenged and unpredictable world. These wonderful creatures continually sample the atmosphere, oceans, fields and forests, signalling toxic and environmental dangers that threaten all vertebrates. Through personal stories and fascinating examples, Nobel prizewinner Peter Doherty shows also how birds have contributed to cutting-edge medical research. Studying birds has helped us to understand the nature of human cancer, malaria and influenza, and contributed to the development of new vaccines and cures. In his trademark style, Peter argues that since birds pollenate, spread plant seeds and control insects, endangering their habitats through human activities is a threat to our own wellbeing. Sentinel Chickens shows why we should give our feathered friends our close, sustained and caring attention.
4. Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird by Tim Birkhead
What is it like to be a swift, flying at over one hundred kilometres an hour? Or a kiwi, plodding flightlessly among the humid undergrowth in the pitch dark of a New Zealand night? And what is going on inside the head of a nightingale as it sings, and how does its brain improvise? Bird Sense addresses questions like these and many more, by describing the senses of birds that enable them to interpret their environment and to interact with each other. Our affinity for birds is often said to be the result of shared senses–vision and hearing–but how exactly do their senses compare with our own? And what about a bird’s sense of taste, or smell, or touch, or the ability to detect the earth’s magnetic field? Or the extraordinary ability of desert birds to detect rain hundreds of kilometres away–how do they do it? Bird Sense is based on a conviction that we have consistently underestimated what goes on in a bird’s head. Our understanding of bird behaviour is simultaneously informed and constrained by the way we watch and study them. By drawing attention to the way these frameworks both facilitate and inhibit discovery, Birkhead identifies ways we can escape from them to explore new horizons in bird behaviour. There has never been a popular book about the senses of birds. No one has previously looked at how birds interpret the world or the way the behaviour of birds is shaped by all their senses. A lifetime spent studying birds has provided Tim Birkhead with a wealth of observation and a unique understanding of birds and their behaviour that is firmly grounded in science.
5. Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson
Feathers are an evolutionary marvel: aerodynamic, insulating, beguiling. They date back more than 100 million years. Yet their story has never been fully told.In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us? Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology’s most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.Feathersis a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.
6. Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story by Stephanie Spinner & Meilo So
In 1977, graduate student Irene Pepperberg walked into a pet store and bought a year-old African grey parrot. Because she was going to study him, she decided to call him Alex–short for Avian Learning EXperiment. At that time, most scientists thought that the bigger the brain, the smarter the creature; they studied great apes and dolphins. African greys, with their walnut-sized “birdbrains,” were pretty much ignored–until Alex. His intelligence surprised everyone, including Irene. He learned to count, add, and subtract; to recognize shapes, sizes, and colors; and to speak, and understand, hundreds of words. These were things no other animal could do. Alex wasn’t supposed to have the brainpower to do them, either. But he did them anyway. Accompanied by Meilo So’s stunning illustrations, Alex and Irene’s story is one of groundbreaking discoveries about animal intelligence, hard work, and the loving bonds of a unique friendship.
7. Extreme Birds: The World’s Most Extraordinary and Bizarre Birds by Dominic Couzens
Extreme Birds is a photographic showcase of 150 birds at the extremes of nature. It reveals nature’s ingenuity and sometimes its sense of humor. The species in this book were chosen for their extraordinary characteristics and for behaviors far beyond the typical. They are the biggest, the fastest, the meanest, the smartest. They build the most intricate nests, they have the most peculiar mating rituals, they dive the deepest and they fly the highest. These are the overachievers of the avian world.
8. Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide by Ben Hoare and David Burnie
Unrivaled in scope for a single-volume reference work, this visual guide to every bird order and family profiles more than 1,400 species, photographed in their native environment by photographers around the globe. Authoritative, comprehensive, and completely up to date, this is a must-have reference for anyone with even a passing interest in the world’s birds. Illustrates the full range of birds, bird behavior, and bird-watching locations. Organized in taxonomic order with detailed introductions to every bird order. Special double-page features on the most spectacular birds. Breathtaking images of the bird world.
9. Puffling Patrol by Ted Lewin and Betsy Lewin
The Lewins take readers on a trip to Iceland’s Westman Islands, where Atlantic puffins return each spring to breed and raise their young, which are called pufflings. In August, when the adult puffins fly away for the winter, their fledglings must fend for themselves. Each year some fly into town rather than out to sea, but the children and adult volunteers of the Puffling Patrol rescue many of the vulnerable birds. After accompanying a team of researchers studying the puffins’ burrows in cliffs above the sea, the Lewins follow two children, twins Erna and Dáni, as they find a wayward puffling, take it home for the night, visit the natural history museum’s rescue station the next day, and help with the release of many pufflings. Wonderfully vibrant and expressive, the book’s illustrations include large watercolor paintings and smaller ink drawings with watercolor washes.
10. Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them by Sharon Beals
Sharon Beals’ gorgeous photographs of nests offer a new window onto the life and beauty of birds. Drawn from the collections of the California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, these birds’ nests from around the world offer astonishing insight into the intricate detail wrought by nature’s most fastidious architects. Lovely images of nests and eggs are set against rich black backgrounds, and are accompanied by fascinating and informative portraits—conveyed through words and illustrations—of the birds that built them. A beautiful volume, Nests is the perfect gift for birders, bird lovers, and anyone captivated by the fleeting and fascinating splendor of the natural world.