Books

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ENSBC members recommend the following books about birds and the natural world.  If you would like to recommend your favorite reads, please email libbyhill@comcast.net

Recommended by Jennifer Schmidt

FICTION & NONFICTION:

The Beak of the Finch: Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner
From Good Reads:
On a desert island in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago, where Darwin received his first inklings of the theory of evolution, two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, have spent twenty years proving that Darwin did not know the strength of his own theory.  For among the finches of Daphne Major, natural selection is neither rare nor slow: it is taking place by the hour, and we can watch.  In this dramatic story of groundbreaking scientific research, Jonathan Weiner follows these scientists as they watch Darwin's finches and come up with a new understanding of life itself.  The Beak of the Finch is an elegantly written and compelling masterpiece of theory and explication in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  

The Bedside Book of Birds: An Avian Miscellany by Graeme Gibson
From Publishers Weekly:
In this intriguing, beautifully illustrated volume, Canadian writer and birder Gibson employs poems, folk tales, parables, legends, and extracts from the works of naturalists and others to explore humans' relationship with birds through the centuries. Some of the material—Peter Matthiessen's tribute to shorebirds, Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem about wild swans, Thomas Hardy's ode to a darkling thrush—reflect the joy many people feel on seeing or hearing a bird. But a number of the pieces, such as Robinson Jeffers's wrenching poem about a hurt hawk, Gabriel García Márquez's story involving sinister curlews and Kafka's threatening fantasy about a vulture, do not make the best bedtime reading. Numerous selections dwell on the human propensity for killing, exploitation and cruelty, as exemplified by a grisly passage describing the slaughter of a flock of terrified birds from Gibson's novel Perpetual Motion. As if to underscore his grim message, Gibson concludes his miscellany with a list of wildlife organizations to join if one is inclined to help avians in peril.

Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky
From the publisher:
Renowned bird biologist Les Beletsky provides a succinct description of each of the 250 birds profiled, with an emphasis on their distinctive songs. Lavish full-color illustrations accompany each account, while a sleek, built-in digital audio player holds 250 corresponding songs and calls.

The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes by Peter Matthiessen
From Publishers Weekly:
A prolific and gifted novelist and naturalist, National Book Award-winner Matthiessen provides literally a worldwide tableau in his quest for various subspecies of cranes. These large flying birds celebrated in myth and folklore are found everywhere from Siberia to Australia, sub-Saharan Africa to North America. The author moves through each of these diverse climes as he not only reminds readers of the awesome beauty of the natural world but also introduces them to fascinating bits of local history and legend. The title of the book derives from the lore of taiga-dwelling shamans, who believe these great birds possess the ability to traverse the three realms of heaven, earth and the underworld. In practical terms, that's not so far off: some species of cranes can fly as high as 20,000 feet, others migrate as far as 3,100 miles. In his wanderings, Matthiessen meets fellow travelers and "craniacs." Ornithologists, guides and hunters offer intriguing anecdotes about cranes and other creatures encountered during their adventures and misadventures in various wildernesses. Additionally, Matthiessen reaches into his store of historical and political knowledge about these remote places. He good-humoredly details, for example, the reluctant cooperation between Russian and Chinese environmental authorities as they try to study and ensure the survival of the various threatened crane subspecies that dwell along their faraway, beautiful, but politically tense borderlands. Eloquent and graceful, this lovely, moving narrative will inspire and delight readers with or without ornithological background or interests.

Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Elizabeth J. Rosenthal
From the Inside Flap:
Roger Tory Peterson—the Renaissance man who taught Americans the joy of watching birds—also invented the modern field guide. His 1934 landmark Field Guide to the Birds was the first bird-identification guide designed to be used in the field by the average person. Its success led to the best-selling Peterson Field Guide series, which has since taught millions about virtually all aspects of nature. Peterson combined fine writing with detailed and beautifully rendered illustrations, ultimately publishing many other books and winning virtually every award and medal for natural science, ornithology, and conservation. Before long, he became the birding and natural history guru to the world and was recognized as the key force in alerting the public to the importance of preserving nature. There are now an estimated 70 million birdwatchers in the United States.  For this meticulously detailed biography, author Elizabeth J. Rosenthal has created a fully rounded portrait of this hero of the conservation movement. Never-before-seen photographs enhance this intimate portrayal, which will be welcomed by Peterson’s enormous following.

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik
From Publishers Weekly:
In one of the wackiest competitions around, every year hundreds of obsessed bird watchers participate in a contest known as the North American Big Year. Hoping to be the one to spot the most species during the course of the year, each birder spends 365 days racing around the continental U.S. and Canada compiling lists of birds, all for the glory of being recognized by the American Birding Association as the Big Year birding champion of North America. In this entertaining book, Obmascik, a journalist with the Denver Post, tells the stories of the three top contenders in the 1998 American Big Year: a wisecracking industrial roofing contractor from New Jersey who aims to break his previous record and win for a second time; a suave corporate chief executive from Colorado; and a 225-pound nuclear power plant software engineer from Maryland. Obmascik bases his story on post-competition interviews but writes so well that it sounds as if he had been there every step of the way. In a freewheeling style that moves around as fast as his subjects, the author follows each of the three birding fanatics as they travel thousands of miles in search of such hard-to-find species as the crested myna, the pink-footed goose and the fork-tailed flycatcher, spending thousands of dollars and braving rain, sleet, snowstorms, swamps, deserts, mosquitoes and garbage dumps in their attempts to outdo each other. By not revealing the outcome until the end of the book, Obmascik keeps the reader guessing in this fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame.

A Birder's Guide to the Chicago Region by Lynne Carpenter and  Joel Greenberg
From the publisher:
Identifying more than 250 top sites for birding within a 65-mile radius from downtown Chicago, this useful guide provides maps, directions, and other information essential for discovering the birds of the area in their natural habitats. The most thorough guide of its kind, it covers nineteen counties of the greater Chicago area.  
A Birder's Guide to the Chicago Region includes detailed descriptions of local habitats and maps that show where to find birds in nearby Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, as well as Illinois. While providing a wealth of practical information, the guide is enriched with insightful accounts of the natural history and ecology of particular areas.  An essential guide for either beginning or experienced birders, this book will appeal to anyone who appreciates nature and wants to learn more about the natural history, ecology, and especially the birds of the Chicago area.

Birding Babylon: A Soldier's Journal from Iraq by Jonathan Trouern-Trend
From Publishers Weekly:
Online journals by soldiers in Iraq often get a lot of readers, and one about bird watching proved just as appealing. Trouern-Trend's book is an edited selection of journal entries he posted while serving in Iraq with the 118th Area Support Medical Battalion in 2004. A birder since age 12, Trouern-Trend saw an opportunity in his deployment and recorded his discoveries. As he makes a defensive perimeter around a humvee with a flat tire, the contrast between his activities during his deployment is striking: "I'm lying on the ground with my eye on some guy racing around in a pickup truck, wondering if he's going to take a potshot at us (which would have been suicidal), while a pair of crested larks were not even 10 feet from me, the male displaying and dancing around." As Trouern-Trend finds comfort in familiar species and an appreciation for Iraq's unique specimens, readers will enjoy a fresh perspective on a place and an experience that continues to impact many.

Condor: To the Brink and Back by John Nielsen
From Publishers Weekly:
NPR's environment correspondent, Nielsen, writes, "The condor is a rat with ten-foot wings," adding a half-page later that no matter how you try to get rid of it, "one day it will stand, spread its giant wings, lean into the wind, and own you." The awesome, ancient creature has been teased back from the brink of extinction since the 1970s, as Nielsen describes, by a controversial captive breeding program that has nurtured the population from around 20 to over 200. Via an unfortunately stuttering time line, Nielsen focuses on the process and players in the $20-million California Condor Recovery program, describing the infighting in the scientific and environmental communities, at war about whether a "hands on" or a "hands off" approach will work best. Provocative questions environmentalists raise include whether the very nature of the bird is sacrificed by captivity. Nielsen gives these concerns some time, but is most entranced by the hazards and pleasures of working with these birds; he's at his best describing scientists in the field and the birds themselves. One is left with the fledgling hope that the process of trial and error will indeed work out for the condors.

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman
From Booklist:
Kaufman set out on his first solo birding trip when he was 16 years old, on a Greyhound bus, starting in Wichita, Kansas, and ending up in a California jail, for it was illegal for minors to be in that state without adult supervision. So began his quest to set a record: spotting the most North American bird species in a one-year period. Kaufman did just that in 1973, sighting what was then a record 229 species on a grueling hitchhiking trip that took him from Puget Sound to the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. Other birding trips followed, from North Dakota to Alaska, from Alaska to Maine, from Maine to Mazatlan in Mexico, and from Arizona to New Jersey. On those arduous trips, too, the author hitchhiked, stopping to work at odd jobs to earn a few dollars. His book is a fascinating memoir of an obsession with birds.

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott
From Publishers Weekly:
Barcott relates the dramatic and heart-rending story of one woman's struggle to save the scarlet macaw in the tiny country of Belize. Sharon Matola, an eccentric American who directs the Belize Zoo, learned in 1999 that a Canadian power company planned to build a dam that would destroy the habitat of the 200 scarlet macaws remaining in Belize. Helped by native Belizeans and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Matola mounted a six-year campaign against the dam, undaunted by government officials who branded her an enemy of the state and threatened to destroy her zoo by locating a new national garbage dump next to it—a vindictive act halted only when Princess Anne of Great Britain, which gives Belize millions in aid, planned to speak out against it. But the combined forces of a determined corporation and a corrupt government were unrelenting, even after it was revealed that the power company's geological studies of the site were faulty and the dam could put human lives at stake. Barcott's compelling narrative is suspenseful right up to the last moment.

Life List by Olivia Gentile
From Publishers Weekly:
In this biography of bird enthusiast Phoebe Snetsinger, former journalist Gentile wonders whether there is a line between dedication and obsession, and when does obsession cross the line into pathology? Married, with four children, Phoebe was a frustrated 1950s housewife who began experiencing a depression that felt like she was inside a tomb. Her introduction to bird-watching by another shy, brainy housewife, seeing a warbler through binoculars, was a revelation; it was as if she'd seen a blinding white light. With the help of a local birding club, Phoebe began her life list of birds and gradually began traveling farther afield in search of new sightings. Diagnosed in her late 40s with incurable cancer and less than a year to live, she threw herself into birding, traveling worldwide, ignoring injury and danger to work on her life list for another 18 years, until killed in a bus accident in Madagascar at the age of 68. Gentile's ambivalence, celebrating Snetsinger's having lived so fully and with so much spirit but noting that she had lost the capacity to take into account her family, her health and her safety, adds a reflectiveness that Phoebe herself may have avoided in life.

Grail Bird by Tim Gallagher
From Scientific American:
This book is an outstanding example of the behind-the-recent-headlines genre. It tells the story of the obsessive quest to find the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was feared to be extinct (no confirmed sightings since 1944). Big, mysterious, iconic, the bird is "a symbol of everything that has gone wrong with our relationship to the environment." In the 19th century, it was plundered by collectors, and in the 20th, extensive habitat destruction seemingly drove it to extinction.  Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's publication Living Bird, has searched for the bird off and on for three decades. One day in February 2004 he read a posting on a canoe club Web site about a strange woodpecker that a kayaker named Gene Sparling had seen on a float trip down a remote bayou in eastern Arkansas. Less than two weeks later Gallagher and his fellow seeker, Bobby Ray Harrison, were in the swamp with Sparling, looking for the elusive bird. As readers of headlines know, they found it. The discovery gives us, Gallagher writes, "one final chance to get it right, to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive."

Hope is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds by Christopher Cokinos
From Publishers Weekly:
Even readers with no special interest in birds will be caught up in this marvelous book, a deeply moving cautionary tale about how we have systematically diminished the planet. In recounting the histories of six extinct North American birds, along with stories of the people who killed them off and those who tried to save them, Cokinos, a professor of English at Kansas State University, transforms each extinction into a deeply disturbing tragedy--both for the species itself, and for human civilization. Relentless, wanton hunting, more than ecosystem pressures, obliterated Cokinos's feathered protagonists, including the Carolina Parakeet, which once colored the skies with its green, yellow and reddish-orange plumage; the hardy Passenger Pigeon, flying for hours at a time in endless flocks before it vanished around 1900; the exquisite Labrador Duck; and the Heath Hen, daily fare for the Pilgrims, a holdout on Martha's Vineyard until 1932. Cokinos seamlessly weaves together priceless anecdotes, historical detective work, birders' reports, natural histories of the vanished species and his travel notes ranging from the Louisiana bayous to the steep-cliffed Bird Rock islets in the St. Lawrence Gulf, once the nesting ground of the extinct Great Auk. We also meet memorable humans like wildlife artist Don Eckelberry, who in 1944 made the last authenticated sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as its forest was being decimated. Cokinos weighs the "fantastically remote" possibility of using DNA cloned from extinct birds to resurrect these vanished species, but the real hope engendered by this extraordinary saga--beautifully illustrated with photographs, engravings, paintings and memorabilia--lies in its insistent plea to restore ecological sanity.

Kea, Bird of Paradox: The Evolution and Behavior of a New Zealand Parrot by Judy Diamond
From Publishers Weekly:
In kea country, tourists are often advised to close their windows before going out, lest the birds get in and maul their rooms. A crow-sized parrot native to New Zealand's South Island, the kea's intelligence rivals that of monkeys, but on the island it is best known for its playful, inordinately destructive behavior. Diamond and Bond, professors at the University of Nebraska, report on the first extensive field study of the world's only alpine parrot. While tracing the history of New Zealand's unique avifauna, including the fabled moa and the lowland kaka, the authors show how the kea's unique adaptability has led to both its survival and its sometimes contentious relations with humans. Seen as a pest by sheep farmers whose livestock were picked at by the birds, keas were ruthlessly shot until 1953 and were not fully protected until 1986. Though it is now uncommon to find keas outside nature preserves and national parks, their mischievous play - tipping garbage cans, breaking TV antennas, shredding camping tents - continues to frustrate human neighbors. The authors found that these annoying behaviors are similar to object play and are socially facilitated. Though the kea's cheeky character makes for lively anecdotes and complicated history that may interest birders, this is primarily a scientific report and its methodical tone may put off the general reader.

Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul
From Publishers Weekly:
Weidensaul traces bird watching in America from colonial times to the present, when powerful binoculars and other sophisticated technologies have revolutionized the sport. He entertainingly describes many early naturalists who shot and collected birds, including Mark Catesby, John and William Bartram, some military men and an intrepid woman named Martha Maxwell. By the late 19th century, when entire bird populations had been decimated for sport, food and the millinery trade, formidable society ladies began demanding avian protection, the Audubon Society was created and recreational birding, featuring binoculars instead of guns, was born, aided by the emergence of field guides like Roger Tory Peterson's. Today, says Weidensaul, there are millions of birders in the United States, and the sport has entered a new phase, emphasizing competitive birding, lists, rarity chasing and Big Year records. For Weidensaul, this is not a good thing. He finds that people who concentrate on competition and listing often forget the enjoyment of mere observation and the importance of conservation. A naturalist and federally licensed bird bander, he is passionate about birding. His vivid descriptions of his own experiences should send many a reader out of doors to look for the small, contained miracle that is a bird.

Parrots in the City: One Bird's Struggle for a Place on the Planet by Mattie Sue Athan
From the publisher:
Less than a century after our only parrot became extinct, a new bird flies North American skies. Brave little monk parakeets don't crowd nature, but rather choose city life. Will this bird be allowed to "replace" our lost native parrot?

Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction by Elizabeth Gehrman
From the publisher:
Rare Birds is a tale of obsession, of hope, of fighting for redemption against incredible odds. It is the story of how Bermuda’s David Wingate changed the world—or at least a little slice of it—despite the many voices telling him he was crazy to try.  This tiny island in the middle of the North Atlantic was once the breeding ground for millions of Bermuda petrels. Also known as cahows, the graceful and acrobatic birds fly almost nonstop most of their lives, drinking seawater and sleeping on the wing. But shortly after humans arrived here, more than three centuries ago, the cahows had vanished, eaten into extinction by the country’s first settlers.   Then, in the early 1900s, tantalizing hints of the cahows’ continued existence began to emerge. In 1951, an American ornithologist and a Bermudian naturalist mounted a last-ditch effort to find the birds that had come to seem little more than a legend, bringing a teenage Wingate—already a noted birder—along for the ride. When the stunned scientists pulled a blinking, docile cahow from deep within a rocky cliffside, it made headlines around the world—and told Wingate what he was put on this earth to do.  Starting with just seven nesting pairs of the birds, Wingate would devote his life to giving the cahows the chance they needed in their centuries-long struggle for survival — battling hurricanes, invasive species, DDT, the American military, and personal tragedy along the way.  It took six decades of obsessive dedication, but the cahow, still among the rarest of seabirds, has reached the hundred-pair mark and continues its nail-biting climb to repopulation. And Wingate has seen his dream fulfilled as the birds returned to Nonsuch, an island habitat he hand-restored for them plant-by-plant in anticipation of this day. His passion for resuscitating this “Lazarus species” has made him an icon among birders, and his story is an inspiring celebration of the resilience of nature, the power of persistence, and the value of going your own way.

Red Tails in Love by Marie Winn
From the publisher:
The scene of this enchanting (and true) story is the Ramble, an unknown wilderness deep in the heart of New York's fabled Central Park. There an odd and amiable band of nature lovers devote themselves to observing and protecting the park's rich wildlife. When a pair of red-tailed hawks builds a nest atop a Fifth Avenue apartment house across the street from the model-boat pond, Marie Winn and her fellow "Regulars" are soon transformed into obsessed hawkwatchers. The hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking saga of Pale Male and his mate as they struggle to raise a family in their unprecedented nest site, and the affectionate portrait of the humans who fall under their spell will delight and inspire readers for years to come.

Seeking the Sacred Raven: Politics and Extinction on a Hawaiian Island by Mark Jerome Walters
From Publishers Weekly:
The 'alala, a member of the raven family, is for native Hawaiians a sacred bird, revered as a guardian spirit for the soul on its way to the afterlife. These birds, indigenous to the island of Hawaii, were once plentiful, but disease, predation and loss of habitat have brought them to the brink of extinction. Walters offers a devastating chronicle of what happens to attempts to save an endangered species when the interests of landowners, biologists, government agencies and conservation organizations clash: for the 'alala, everything ended in heartbreak in 2002, the last time one of these birds was observed in the wild. Now, Walters says, only 50 'alala remain, in captivity, and they may not survive if they are released, for in spite of all the hard work and sacrifice expended on saving them, little has been accomplished, especially regarding the conservation or renewal of their natural habitat. Walters's poignant book is a trenchant reminder of what can happen when politics and self-interest get in the way of preservation.

Songbird Journeys by Miyoko Chu
From Publishers Weekly:
Each spring, millions of orioles, tanagers, thrushes, warblers and other songbirds travel thousands of miles from the tropics to their summer breeding grounds as far north as the boreal forests of Canada and in the fall return to their southern wintering grounds. Navigating by the stars, magnetic fields and polarized light patterns invisible to humans, the birds make their amazing journeys at night, flying in huge flocks that most of us never see. In this captivating debut, Chu, an ornithologist at Cornell, conveys the wonder of these migrations, following the birds through all four seasons and chronicling the efforts of scientists to track them with technology and their own ingenuity—trekking to distant locales, some even following, in cars and airplanes, individual birds outfitted with transmitters. Their heroic efforts are important, Chu points out, for only by understanding where the birds go can we learn how to preserve their habitats. To engage the general public in these efforts, she includes information on the best places to observe migrating birds and provides lists of citizen-science projects and resources for amateurs birders who want to contribute to the growing base of knowledge about bird migration.

Spix's Macaw: The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird by Tony Juniper
From Publishers Weekly:
For the magnificent blue parrots of South America, beauty and intelligence have been a curse. These qualities, in addition to the birds' rare numbers, have made the animals highly attractive to human collectors. Despite a ban on endangered-parrot trading since 1975, smugglers have continued to trap and sell blue parrots-including the rarest, Spix's macaw-on the international market. By 1990, only one wild Spix's remained. Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, recounts the riveting adventures of the team of specialists that finally documented the presence of this last wild bird in Brazil's remote northeast interior and launched efforts to try to protect it. He describes the forces that drive the black market in macaws-chiefly poverty, corruption and greed-and notes that "parrots are today part of an illegal trade in wildlife that ranks second in value only to the multibillion-dollar clandestine drugs and arms markets." Indeed, a rare parrot can fetch as much as $40,000. Juniper presents a fascinating overview of the long history of human-parrot relationships, which date to ancient times, and also describes the efforts to breed Spix's macaws in captivity. Juniper is an impassioned advocate for the world's rarest bird, and also demonstrates a deep understanding of the social issues involved in saving endangered wildlife. The situation for the Spix's remains precarious; whether it will share the fate of the dodo or eventually flourish again, as did the almost-extinct Przewalski's horse and European bison, depends on "human cooperation, foresight and generosity."

Superdove by Courtney Humphries
From the publisher:
Why do we see pigeons as lowly urban pests and how did they become such common city dwellers? Courtney Humphries traces the natural history of the pigeon, recounting how these shy birds that once made their homes on the sparse cliffs of sea coasts came to dominate our urban public spaces. While detailing this evolution, Humphries introduces us to synanthropy: The concept that animals can become dependent on humans without ceasing to be wild; they can adapt to the cityscape as if it were a field or a forest.
Superdove simultaneously explores the pigeon's cultural transformation, from its life in the dovecotes of ancient Egypt to its service in the trenches of World War I, to its feats within the pigeon-racing societies of today. While the dove is traditionally recognized as a symbol of peace, the pigeon has long inspired a different sort of fetishistic devotion from breeders, eaters, and artists—and from those who recognized and exploited the pigeon's astounding abilities. Because of their fecundity, pigeons were symbols of fertility associated with Aphrodite, while their keen ability to find their way home made them ideal messengers and even pilots.
Their usefulness largely forgotten, today's pigeons have become as ubiquitous and reviled as rats. But Superdove reveals something more surprising: By using pigeons for our own purposes, we humans have changed their evolution. And in doing so, we have helped make pigeons the ideal city dwellers they are today. In the tradition of Rats, the book that made its namesake rodents famous, Superdove is the fascinating story of the pigeon's journey from the wild to the city—the home they'll never leave.

Tales of a Low-Rent Birder by Pete Dunne
From the Auk:
In these tales about birds, birding, and birders, Dunne has captured many of the feelings that make birding special.... Almost any ornithologist or naturalist would enjoy this book.

Where to Watch Birds in World Cities, by Paul Milne
From the publisher:
This is the first birder’s guide to sixty cities of the world. Designed and written for the bird enthusiast who is traveling for reasons other than birding—on business, with family, for academic conferences—the book offers assistance in locating birds, identifying local bird residents, and using public transportation. Where to Watch Birds in World Cities deserves a permanent place in the suitcase or briefcase of anyone who would like to make the most of limited time in an unfamiliar city by learning about the local birds.  Entries for each of the sixty cities provide an introduction to the city and detailed information on major bird-watching sites, including lists of typical summer and winter bird residents and migrants and directions for getting to the sites using public transportation. The book is illustrated throughout with maps and attractive line drawings. In no way a replacement for detailed guides to specific cities or regions, this book instead fills an important gap for travelers whose birding, though done on short notice, can nevertheless prove delightful.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner
From the publisher:
Like a lot of young people in the 1970s, Mark Bittner took the path of the “dharma bum.” When the counterculture faded, Mark held on, seeking shelter in the nooks and crannies of San Francisco’s fabled bohemian neighborhood, North Beach. While living on the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, he made a magical discovery: a flock of wild parrots. In this unforgettable story, Bittner recounts how he became fascinated by the birds and patiently developed friendships with them that would last more than six years. When a documentary filmmaker comes along to capture the phenomenon on film, the story takes a surprising turn, and Bittner’s life truly takes flight.

The Wind Birds by Peter Matthiessen
From the publisher:
In this nature-writing classic, the National Book Award-winning author of such works as Killing Mister Watson, Far Tortuga, The Snow Leopard, and At Play in Fields of the Lord captures the essence of the world's most fascinating group of birds, conveying the biological and behavioral intricacies of shorebirds without dulling their romance and wonder.

Last of the Curlews Paperback by Fred Bodsworth
From the publisher:
In this conservation classic, originally published fifty-five years ago, Fred Bodsworth tells the story of a solitary Eskimo curlew’s perilous migration and search for a mate. The lone survivor comes to stand for the entirety of a species on the brink of extinction, and for all in nature that is endangered. This new paperback edition includes a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin and an afterword by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann.

FIELD GUIDES

Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil by John A. Gwynne
"This landmark guide—the first in an ecologically focused series—represents a major milestone for birding and conservation in the American tropics. Brazil is by far the richest country in the world for birds and tropical wilderness. Avian diversity and abundance combine magically in the Pantanal and Cerrado regions of Brazil's interior. Finally, we have a field guide covering all the birds of this region, richly illustrated by the best in the business and complete with detailed notes and photographs describing the unique ecology and conservation issues of this captivating piece of paradise. Kudos to John A. Gwynne, Robert S. Ridgley, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel for carrying through with this labor of love. Birding in Brazil just became a whole lot easier and more rewarding. I can't wait to get back down there and use this book!"—John W. Fitzpatrick, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birds of Australia: Eighth Edition by Ken Simpson
From the publisher:
This is the completely revised eighth edition of Australia's best-selling field guide, with close to 600,000 copies sold. In 132 color plates of remarkable beauty and precision, Nicolas Day captures the details of all 780 of Australia's birds. Succinct text by Ken Simpson and other experts gives key points of identification for every species, as well as information about the birds' abundance and patterns of movement. Detailed color distribution maps accompany the species text.

Birds of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Socotra by Nigel Redman
From the publisher:
Birds of the Horn of Africa is the first field guide to the more than 1,000 species of resident, migrant, and vagrant birds found in northeast Africa. Covering Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and the Socotra archipelago, this comprehensive, easy-to-use guide features more than 2,600 illustrations on 213 full-color plates, and a color distribution map for every species. Detailed species accounts on facing pages include descriptions of key identification features, similar species, geographical variation, habitat, status, and voice. This field-ready guide also includes a glossary, identification tips, and information about bird habitats. Birds of the Horn of Africa is an essential resource for birders, naturalists, and travelers in the region.

Birds of Mexico and Central America by Ber van Perlo
From the publisher:
Birds of Mexico and Central America is the only field guide to illustrate and describe every species of bird in Central America from Mexico to Panama, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Birds of Peru by Thomas S. Schulenberg
From the publisher:
Nearly eighteen hundred different bird species--one fifth of the world's birds--have been recorded in Peru. Birds of Peru is the most complete and well-researched field guide to this rich and fascinating diversity. It illustrates every one of the 1,792 species and shows the distinct plumages of each. It includes 304 superb, high-quality color plates directly opposite concise descriptions and color distribution maps, making it much easier to use in the field than standard neotropical field guides. The detailed text discusses key identification features, status, distribution, and vocalizations for all species, and many subspecies.

A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies by James Bond
From the publisher:
Descriptions of more than 400 species of birds found in the islands of the West Indies include local names of birds, notes on migrants and winter residents -- as well as birds that breed there -- and voice, habitat, and range information. More than 340 illustrations aid in identification.

Birds of Southeast Asia: Including the Philippines and Borneo by Craig Robson
From the publisher:
This concise, updated edition of the award-winning A Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia (Princeton, 2000) is the most comprehensive, compact guide to this magnificent bird-rich region. It is a complete field and reference guide to the birds of Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It also covers a wide range of species found in the Indian subcontinent, China, Taiwan, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, and the Philippines.

Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair
From the publisher:
Birds of Southern Africa continues to be the best and most authoritative guide to the bird species of this remarkable region. This fully revised edition covers all birds found in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique. The 213 dazzling color plates depict more than 950 species and are accompanied by more than 950 color maps and detailed facing text.

Birds of Northern India by Richard Grimmett
From the publisher:
A successor to Birds of the Indian Subcontinent", by the same authors, this handbook explores the birdlife of northern India and Pakistan. The plates are accompanied by text that highlights the identification, voice, habitat, altitudinal range, distribution and status of the birds. The text is on pages facing the plates for easy reference, and there are distribution maps for every species."

Our Birds: Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba by Bart A De Boer
From the publisher:
"Unknown, unloved". It is with this saying in mind that the Animal Protection Society decided to compile this bird guide, hoping to increase the knowledge of and the respect for nature with the people of the Leeward Islands; a group of islands in the West Indies, the islands of the Lesser Antilles. This bird guide, containing pictures and descriptions of 50 of their most common birds, is also an excellent book of reference for everyone with an interest in birds.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan by The Wild Bird Society of Japan
From the publisher:
Describes the characteristics and range of Japanese loons, swans, geese, ducks, pelicans, gulls, terns, storks, cranes, sandpipers, hawks, falcons, owls, pigeons, swifts, woodpeckers, larks, swallows, thrushes, and starlings.

 

Recommended by Libby Hill

Books by member Joel Greenberg

Joel has written three books.  The first, A Natural History of the Chicago Region, is widely regarded as the best of its type. describing the natural history of southern Wisconsin to southern Michigan. 

Of Prairie, Woods, & Water: Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing, invites us to dip into literature about "Chicago's environmental beauty and inspires our wonder and spurs us to imagine the world at its best, which in turn can lead us to take action to help make it so." (Richard J. Durbin, United States Senator. 

Joel's latest book, published in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of the death of the last Passenger Pigeon, is A Feathered River Across the Sky: From Billions to None. It is a must-read about how what looked like an inextinguishable number of birds in one species could, in fact, be extinguished by man.  Edward. O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University said of this book:

"Joel Greenberg, a Chicago-area naturalist and avid birder, has written a new account of the passenger pigeon's demise, A Feathered River Across the Sky . As Greenberg relates it, in calm, measured prose, it's a story of unremitting, wanton, continental-scale destruction. Thoroughly researched and well written." —New York Review of Books
 
Recommended by Gary Hantsbarger
 
To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession. by Dan Koeppel.
Richard Koeppel’s obsession began at age twelve, in Queens, New York, when he first spotted a Brown Thrasher, and jotted the sighting in a notebook. Several decades, one failed marriage, and two sons later, he set out to see every bird on earth, becoming a member of a subculture of competitive bird watchers worldwide all pursuing the same goal. Over twenty-five years, he collected over seven thousand species, becoming one of about ten people ever to do so.

Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul, by Scott Weidensaul.
In 1953, birding guru Roger Tory Peterson and noted British naturalist James Fisher set out on what became a legendary journey-a one hundred day trek over 30,000 miles around North America. They traveled from Newfoundland to Florida, deep into the heart of Mexico, through the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and into Alaska's Pribilof Islands. Two years later, Wild America, their classic account of the trip, was published. On the eve of that book's fiftieth anniversary, naturalist Scott Weidensaul retraces Peterson and Fisher's steps to tell the story of wild America today. How has the continent's natural landscape changed over the past fifty years? How have the wildlife, the rivers, and the rugged, untouched terrain fared?

 
Recmmended by Ann Tanner
 
Birds of Chicago by David B. Johnson and Chris Fisher (Lone Pine, 1998. 168p.). 
From the cover:  This easy-to-use and beautifully illustrated guidebook will help you identify the feathered strangers nibbling at the feeder in your backyard or singing from a nearby tree.  It's packed with notes on 126 common and interesting bird species in the Chicagoland area.  Whether you're a beginner birder or an amateur naturalist, you will find Birds of Chicago a handy reference for our parks, backyards and natural areas.
The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson (Houghton-Mifflin, 2006. 478p.)
From the cover:  ....Now birders at all levels can learn how to identify shorebirds quickly and simply.  This guide includes more than 870 stunning photo photographs, starting with a general impression of the species and progressing to more detailed images of the bird throughout its life cycle.  Quiz questions in the captions will engage and challenge all birders and help them benefit from this streamlined, commonsense approach to identification.