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by William Burt

Excellent photos show a side of birds that we rarely, if ever, get to see.

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Bird Families of the WorldBird Families of the World: An Invitation to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds
by David W. Winkler, Shawn M. Billerman, and Irby J. Lovette

From Lynx Edicions and Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Here in one volume is a synopsis of the diversity of all birds. Published between the two volumes of the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Bird Families of the World distills the voluminous detail of the 17-volume Handbook of Birds of the World into a single book. Based on the latest systematic research and summarizing what is known about the life history and biology of each group, this volume will be the best single-volume entry to avian diversity available. Whether you are a birder with an interest in global bird diversity, or a professional ornithologist wishing to update and fill-in your comprehensive knowledge of avian diversity, this volume will be a valuable addition to your library.

An interest in birds is a life-enriching pursuit; the sheer diversity of birds means there are always stunning new species to see and novel facets of their lives to explore. Yet the grand diversity of birds is also a challenge, as it is easy to become disoriented amidst a group that contains more than 10,000 species that vary in nearly all of their most conspicuous attributes. Learning avian diversity requires a mental map to help us organize our experiences and observations. The scientific classification of birds provides exactly this framework, grouping together into Orders and Families birds that are most closely related to one another, and thereby linking species that share distinguishing traits. For those interested in learning about the tremendous diversity of birds world-wide, the best way to start is to learn the families, and Bird Families of the World is a guide and invitation to do so.

This book has been designed to serve both as a text for ornithology courses and as a resource for serious bird enthusiasts of all levels. Technical terminology is much reduced, and all scientific terms used are defined in a glossary. Introductory material describes the scope and concepts behind the classification used and gives suggestions about how best to use the book. The bulk of Bird Families of the World is a family-by-family account of the birds of the world. Each family is represented by at least a two-page spread, including a distributional map with the breeding, non-breeding and year-round ranges of each family, a short text “teaser” to invite the reader to learn more, standardized descriptions of the appearance, relationships and similar species to each family’s members, their life history and conservation status. Each account includes a review of recent ideas about the relationships of the family to other families and relationships within it. The work is liberally illustrated by photographs from bird enthusiasts around the globe as well as paintings of one species from each of the genera in each family. It will be a beautiful and serviceable guide.


This (large) book’s subtitle reveals its purpose: to introduce the reader to the amazing diversity found within birds. It treats the family as the basic unit of this diversity. The authors present a brief account of each family, focusing on relationships. While this book is lavishly illustrated and useful to anyone interested in birds, if you’re looking for a general purpose overview of birds you’d be better off with something like The World of Birds. But if you have any interest at all in taxonomy (basically, how birds are related to each other), then this is the book for you. I, for one, have found it full of fascinating revelations.


Bird Families of the World: An Invitation to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds
by David W. Winkler, Shawn M. Billerman, and Irby J. Lovette
Hardcover; 600 pages
Lynx Edicions and Cornell Lab of Ornithology; December, 2015
ISBN: 9788494189203

Actually, this is more a list of my favorite bird books of the year. I saw many books in 2015, but not nearly all of them. Certainly not enough to claim this list as comprehensive.


  • Water Babies: The Hidden Lives of Baby Wetland BirdsWater Babies: The Hidden Lives of Baby Wetland Birds
    by William Burt

    Wonderful photos of baby ducks, grebes, shorebirds, herons, and other water birds. The cuteness factor is undeniable, but it’s also a treat to get a glimpse into a part of these birds’ life cycle that we rarely, if ever, get to see. Burt’s short accounts are a fun read, providing information about the birds and insight into what it takes to get such fantastic photographs.

  • The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to NatureThe Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
    by Gerrit Vyn and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

    Like Water Babies, this book is a photographic showcase that is also worth reading. Vyn’s photographs are amazing, reason enough to include The Living Bird in this list. The three essays explore the diversity of birds, how they inspire us, and how they serve as indicators of issues that affect us all. All of this serves to get readers invested in birds, in preparation for the book’s ultimate message: birds are in trouble, but there are things that we can do to help. For more on this book, see my full review.

  • Cuckoo: Cheating by NatureCuckoo: Cheating by Nature
    by Nick Davies

    Cuckoo is a wonderful bit of natural history writing. Brood parasitism is an interesting subject to begin with, and Davies tackles it in a clear, logical, easy-to-understand way. Even if the only cuckoo you’ve seen is on a clock, you should still enjoy this book.

  • The Warbler Guide appThe Warbler Guide app
    by Tom Stephenson, Scott Whittle, and Princeton University Press

    Ok, so this isn’t a book, nor was it released in 2015 (it was late December, 2014). I don’t care; I love this app and want to call attention to it. To start with, it does its job – helping users identify warblers – incredibly well. The sound files and filters alone are worth it. But more importantly, this app, more than any other currently on the market, demonstrates what is possible with digital field guides. For instance, you don’t just get one or two static pictures of the bird, you get a full-on 3d model that you can rotate or move about any way you wish. The Warbler Guide is one of the best bird family ID guides, and now the app based on it is one of the best bird apps you can have on your device.

  • Bird Families of the WorldBird Families of the World: A Guide to the Spectacular Diversity of Birds
    by David W. Winkler, Shawn M. Billerman, and Irby J. Lovette

    This is a family-by-family account of the order Aves. It broadly summarizes a range of natural history information, but focuses on relationships. In other words, taxonomy: to some a fascinating subject, to others a dirty word. But if you have any interest in the subject at all, this volume should prove enlightening and valuable.

  • Birds, Art and DesignBirds, Art & Design
    by Larry Barth

    One of my favorite things about running this website is discovering books that I never would have otherwise. A few of these have been absolute treasures. This is one such book. It presents a sampling of Barth’s bird sculptures, which are simply amazing. Even better, the artist takes us behind the scenes, as it were, providing insight into the inspiration behind the piece and how it was made. For more on this book, which is my favorite from last year, see my full review.

The new novel Fee, by Kelly John, seeks “to introduce the substantial body of non-birders to the exhilarating, crazy mixed-up world of birding”. Well, it’s not quite that simple. See, the novel isn’t published yet. And that’s not the author’s actual name. I could try to explain more fully, but it’s better that you just visit the book’s website. As an added incentive, the majority of the book will be posted on the site for free. Three chapters will be put up every week. I’ve read the first three, and I’m eager for more. I’m also very curious who the author is. But whoever it is, they need help from the birding community to make publishing the novel a reality. And based on what I’ve seen so far, they deserve it.

by Nancy J. Hajeski

A large book with life-sized birds: a great concept marred by errors.

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Parrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating BirdsParrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating Birds
by Catherine A. Toft and Timothy F. Wright

From University of California Press:

Parrots of the Wild explores recent scientific discoveries and what they reveal about the lives of wild parrots, which are among the most intelligent and rarest of birds. Catherine A. Toft and Tim Wright discuss the evolutionary history of parrots and how this history affects perceptual and cognitive abilities, diet and foraging patterns, and mating and social behavior. The authors also discuss conservation status and the various ways different populations are adapting to a world that is rapidly changing. The book focuses on general patterns across the 350-odd species of parrots, as well as what can be learned from interesting exceptions to these generalities.

A synthetic account of the diversity and ecology of wild parrots, this book distills knowledge from the authors’ own research and from their review of more than 2,400 published scientific studies. The book is enhanced by an array of illustrations, including nearly ninety color photos of wild parrots represented in their natural habitats. Parrots of the Wild melds scientific exploration with features directed at the parrot enthusiast to inform and delight a broad audience.


Parrots are beautiful, intelligent, fascinating, and, in just about every way, awesome. And this book is pretty good, too! It’s the place you should go if you want to learn all about these birds.


Parrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating Birds
by Catherine A. Toft and Timothy F. Wright
Hardcover; 346 pages
University of California Press; November 16, 2015
ISBN: 9780520239258

by George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan

Excellent coverage of 24 groups of birds, with an emphasis on skills that will make you a better birder.

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Stories for Birders and Other ObserversStories for Birders and Other Observers
by Andrea Vojtko

From WingSpan Press:

Birders are among the keenest observers and five of the eleven short stories in this collection are inspired by imagination while birding or connecting with nature. Ida Pilcher is inexplicably followed wherever she goes by a dozen turkey vultures; Garland Duckett sees God in the golden eye of a Great Blue Heron; Nelson Mayfield, driven by an Internet report, searches frantically for life on Mars before his anticipated early demise; Nathanael Early’s dioramas of Civil War battlefields have taken over his basement; he barely has space for Vicksburg; Brian Feeney observes his neighbor, an Iraq war veteran, refurbishing a corroded four-foot bronze cross on his deck but why. Andrea Vojtko believes that even so-called normal people are eccentric in their own way, if you observe them long enough. In I Stop for Falcons, Thomas scoffs at a group of birders who hold up traffic while they scope out a falcon, labeling them weird. But his dialogue is itself eccentric. A woman searching for her mother’s lost year in Beverly Hills encounters her mother’s strange acquaintances and gets more than she bargained for. Five of these stories were published previously in literary journals with one, Jubilant Voices, nominated for a 2003 Pushcart prize.


This collection of 11 short stories would be great to have with you while you’re waiting for that stakeout bird to show!


Stories for Birders and Other Observers
by Andrea Vojtko
Paperback; 162 pages
WingSpan Press; November 12, 2015
ISBN: 9781595945747

Here are the bird book reviews posted online during November and December.

One of my favorite things to do is to look ahead at the bird books set to be published soon (I lead such an exciting life!). 2016 is shaping up to be a great year for them. Check out April 12, in particular (in addition to the three highlighted titles, two others – The Genius of Birds and Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage – are also set to be published that day). Has there ever been a single date with that many fantastic-looking books set to be published?