My impression of 2017, in regard to bird books, was that it was a good, but not great, year. But when I took time to think of the books that I wanted to highlight here, I found myself going “Oh yeah, I forgot about that one…” more than I would care to admit. In the end, 2017 did see the publication of some great and potentially highly influential books. Here are a few of them…

But first, I need to say that this is not really a true “best of” list. I haven’t seen, much less read, all the bird books of 2017. It’s more like my favorite books of the year, or those that I consider the most important or influential. If I didn’t include your favorite(s), I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Without further ado, here are my top 6 Bird Books of 2017, in roughly ascending order:

  • National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th EditionNational Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 7th Edition
    by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer

    The National Geographic guide is, along with The Sibley Guide, one of the two best field guides to North American birds. One of the best things about it is that the publisher updates it much more frequently than any other guide. Now in its 7th edition, it follows the pattern of a continuous improvement in the guide. The improvement in this edition is more of a small step, not a giant leap. It includes more species, an updated taxonomy (through 2016), and updates to maps and illustrations. It is the best edition yet, which merits inclusion here. But it is not such a radical improvement that users of the 6th edition should feel compelled to upgrade.

  • The Crossley ID Guide: WaterfowlThe Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl
    by Richard Crossley, Paul Baicich, and Jessie Barry

    The Crossley ID Guides are, in my opinion, some of the best tools available to learn birds. And this new one, covering the ducks, geese, and swans of North America, is no exception. Crossley’s signature plates lend themselves well to this group, and this guide takes full advantage of that by including nearly 300 pages of them. And there’s plenty more here than “just” pictures, including a strong conservation message.

  • Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North AmericaPeterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America
    by Nathan Pieplow

    A field guide with pictures…of sounds. I’m still not sure about this guide’s usefulness in learning bird sounds, the way one can study a traditional field guide to learn what birds look like before going into the field. I still need to spend some more time with it. But I am fully convinced of its value as a reference to identify recorded sounds – and if you become proficient enough, vocalizations that you may have heard, but not recorded. Regardless, Pieplow’s innovative book is pushing the boundaries of field guides, and that is reason enough to include it on this list.

  • The Australian Bird GuideThe Australian Bird Guide
    by Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack, and Kim Franklin

    This is a beautifully illustrated field guide, but that’s not why it’s here. I want to highlight this guide for three reasons:

    1. It’s size. This is a big book, in between the Sibley and Crossley Guides in size. It has no pretense of being usable in the field, so it can devote more space to more and larger illustrations and additional text.

    2. It’s style. The authors have confessed to looking at “the best field guides in the world” when designing their guide. The Collins Guide (aka Birds of Europe) is widely acknowledged as the world’s best field guide, and it appears The Australian Bird Guide authors are in agreement with that sentiment, as their guide bears more than a passing resemblance to Collins.

    3. It’s organization. It eschews the traditional taxonomic species sequence in favor of a more “pragmatic” one. Their system, which they describe in detail in the introduction, works better in a field guide, in my opinion. If you need help finding a bird, multiple types of indices are provided. A drawback of this scheme is that evolutionary relationships can be obscured, so the authors have thoughtfully included an entire section on the evolution and classification of Australian birds.

    For these, and many other, reasons, The Australian Bird Guide joins the ranks of the world’s best field guides.

  • Birding Without BordersBirding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World
    by Noah Strycker

    I love a good birding tale, and this is a really good birding tale. In 2015, Noah Strycker traveled around the world – to all seven continents, without any breaks – with a goal of seeing 5,000+ birds. While the story is great, the writing is even better. This is a fun read, and you may even learn a thing or two.

  • Sage Grouse: Icon of the WestSage Grouse: Icon of the West
    by Noppadol Paothong and Kathy Love

    This book has it all, making it an easy pick as my favorite book of the year: stunning photography; lively, informative text; and a strong, timely conservation message. Sage-grouse are awesome birds, as this book demonstrates. But, sadly, they are in trouble. I share with the authors the hope that those who see this book will be moved to do what they can to help this bird and the sagebrush country in which they live.

There were many great bird-related books published in 2016, including some, I’m sure, that I didn’t even see. So making a list such as this is tricky at best, perhaps even foolish. In fact, I just read the introduction for Scarlet Experiment: Birds and Humans in America, which has me eager to read more. But I’ve waited long enough to post this (as I’ll explain shortly). So without further ado, here are my favorite books of the year.


  • Owl: A Year in the Lives of North American OwlsOwl: A Year in the Lives of North American Owls
    by Paul Bannick

    Simply open this book and it will be obvious why it’s on this list. The photos here are unparalleled. Plus, it’s a very interesting and informative read. Of the many, many owl books out there, this is one of the best and, in my experience, the best looking.

  • Hummingbirds: Volume 1Hummingbirds: Volume 1
    by John C. Arvin

    This is a large (ginormous, even), sumptuous volume covering the hummingbirds of North and Central America, along with the Caribbean. That alone should be enough! But such a book published independently by a conservation organization (Gorgas Science Foundation) – and at a reasonable price! – is noteworthy. I’m very much looking forward to the second volume and, greater still, hoping for many more such books published in the same model.

  • Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the NestBaby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest
    by Julie Zickefoose

    Any Julie Zickefoose book is an almost automatic inclusion on this list. All of them, and this one is no exception, are a delight to behold and a delight to read. I can’t ever decide which one more. And the fact that this book illustrates a stage of birds’ lives so rarely observed makes it all the better. For more, here’s my full review.

  • Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big YearLost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year
    by Neil Hayward

    Big year books seem to be published all the time now. This one stands out from the crowd not so much for the record-breaking birding, but because it’s about much more than birds. This is a story anyone – hard core birder, casual birder, even non-birder – can enjoy. For more, here’s my full review.

  • Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the PacificListening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific
    by Donald Kroodsma

    It took me quite some time to finish this book. (And I figured I ought to do so before posting this :) ) It sounds paradoxical, but it was partly because I was enjoying it so much. Plus, to get the full effect, you really must listen to the accompanying sound tracks while you read (which limits when you can do so in a house with small children!). But when I was able to devote the time to listen and read, it was incredible. You’re vicariously joining the author on his continent-spanning bike trip through both his words and bird sounds he recorded along the way. It’s almost as if you are listening to birds through Kroodsma’s ears – ears which are able to perceive and discern so much more than I ever could. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is the best book of the year, but it was the most enjoyable reading experience, and so my favorite book of the year.

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.

Bird Book Bargains

November 22, 2015 | Comments (0)

Perhaps the only thing better than bird books is…cheap bird books! Here are the current bargains, which I’ll try to keep up-to-date.

Hamilton Book

This site has many bargain books, including a whole birds & birding section. Here are some of the better deals:

  • PITTAS OF THE WORLD: A Monograph on the Pitta Family $9.95
  • AVIAN ARCHITECTURE: How Birds Design, Engineer & Build $9.95
  • OF A FEATHER: A Brief History of American Birding $4.95
  • Peterson Reference Guides: Molt in North American Birds $9.95
  • THE PRIVATE LIVES OF BIRDS: A Scientist Reveals the Intricacies of Avian Social Life $4.95
  • THE BLUEBIRD EFFECT: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds $8.95

Before we get started, I want to say that this is by no means a definitive list. I’ve seen a lot of bird books in 2014, but not nearly all of them. Two in particular – Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, Volume 1 and H is for Hawk – have been highly regarded but I have not had the pleasure of reading. So consider this more as my favorite books of the year.


  • Penguins: The Ultimate GuidePenguins: The Ultimate Guide
    by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, and Julie Cornthwaite

    Overflowing with gorgeous photographs and information, this is the best book for birders on these endearing birds . Divided into three sections – an overview of penguins, essays on science and conservation, and species accounts – it follows the same pattern as the authors’ previous book on albatrosses (which I consider one of the best family books that I’ve seen). This allows you to skip around and read what’s most interesting to you, which, if you’re like me, will be just about everything.

  • Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North AmericaDucks, Geese, and Swans of North America
    by Guy Baldassarre

    Two volumes. Over 1000 pages. Now this is a family monograph. It covers all 46 regularly occurring species in the US and Canada, and does so in great detail. Just about anything you want to know about ducks, geese, and swans – along with some great artwork and photographs – make this indispensable to birders, hunters, and anyone else who likes ducks.

  • National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (Second Edition)National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (Second Edition)
    by Jonathan Alderfer

    This is the National Geographic field guide on steroids – larger format, much more text, and updated with the latest species additions and splits. It’s a fantastic reference for when you need identification information beyond that found in field guides. [Initial Review]

  • Rare Birds of North AmericaRare Birds of North America
    by Steve N. G. Howell, Ian Lewington, and Will Russell

    This covers 262 species that are, well, rare for North America. Which pretty much means vagrants. Sadly, I haven’t had much cause to use this book as I live away from vagrant hotspots. But I’ve studied it, just in case, and it would be the first place I’d turn if I was going to chase any of these birds or if I was traveling to, say, Alaska to look for some awesome birds. The art and the text of this book would be worth getting separately. Together, they form a book that any serious birder would profit from. [Full Review]

  • Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan (Third Edition)Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan (Third Edition)
    by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps

    This will work well as a field guide – it’s small, has nice artwork and informative text, and is generally user-friendly. But it’s the extra touches that set this guide apart. “Graphic indexes” illustrate Borneo’s habitats and its most common birds and a relatively extensive section details the island’s best birding sites. But the feature I like most are the “ecological notes” scattered throughout the book that deal with topics of interest to birders and naturalists, but aren’t usually mentioned in field guides because they are not directly related to identification. I wish that more field guides included enriching features like these. [Full Review]

  • The Sibley Guide to Birds (Second Edition)The Sibley Guide to Birds (Second Edition)
    by David Allen Sibley

    The Sibley Guide has been my field guide of choice since I started birding and, along with the Collins Guide for Europe, I consider it the best field guide for anywhere, period. And with this second edition, it’s now even better with more species, illustrations, and information. The first printing of the guide had some issues with color reproduction, but those have been fixed in a second printing. If you bird anywhere in the US or Canada, you want this book. [Initial Review]


Picking out just one book as “the best” of the year is even more subjective than coming up with this list as a whole. The Sibley Guide will undoubtedly be the most used book on this list, and I would concede that it’s the all-around best. However, there’s another that I want to highlight as the book of the year…



When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer

When Eagles Roar: The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer

by James Alexander Currie and Bonnie J. Fladung

This is the story of James Currie’s infatuation with the natural world, from his work as a game ranger on a South African reserve to host of a nationally broadcast TV show on birding. The stories he tells are spell-binding, but it’s the way he connects them to a larger picture of conservation and people that really makes this book stand out. This was the most moving, compelling, and entertaining book that I read in 2014. [Full Review]

Bird Field Guide App Coverage Map

The countries and regions covered by bird field guide apps.

Being able to have a field guide with me at all times is one of the things I like best about my smart phone. Bird field guide apps provide all the material normally found in print guides, plus things like sounds, checklists, and extra information, with more features constantly being added. I love it!

These apps are even better for traveling birders, allowing you to have all the information of a field guide with none of the bulk. Many areas of the world now have a field guide app available for them. Here’s a list of all the apps available for Apple and Android devices.

If I’ve missed any, please let me know in the comments below.


BirdsEye Bird Finding GuideBirdsEye Bird Finding Guide
Photographs; BirdsEye isn’t a field guide app, per se, but it does include photos of nearly every bird on the planet. You can view the 100 most common birds anywhere you are, and can access others through subscriptions. Sound packages are also available for purchase.
iTunes | Google Play


North America

United States and Canada

For more details on these apps, see my Bird Guide App Comparison.

Audubon Birds — A Field Guide to North American BirdsAudubon Birds — A Field Guide to North American Birds
Photographs; 821 species
iTunes | Google Play

iBird Ultimate Guide to BirdsiBird Ultimate Guide to Birds
Paintings and photographs; 946 species
Review (“Pro” version)
iTunes | Google Play (“Pro” version)

Peterson Birds of North America appPeterson Birds of North America
Paintings; 800+ species

The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North AmericaThe Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America
Paintings; 814 species
iTunes | Google Play


Central America and Caribbean

Costa Rica

Costa Rica Birds Field GuideCosta Rica Birds Field Guide
Photographs; 620+ species
iTunes | Google Play


Panama Birds Field GuidePanama Birds Field Guide
Photographs; 550+ species
iTunes | Google Play

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Birds in Photos and AudioPuerto Rico and Virgin Islands Birds in Photos and Audio
Photographs; 380+ species


South America


Birds of BrazilBirds of Brazil
Photographs; 1800+ species


Birds of Colombia mobile guideBirds of Colombia mobile guide
Photographs; 1800+ species
Google Play


Birds of EcuadorBirds of Ecuador
Photographs; 350 species
iTunes (iPad only)




Collins Bird Guide – The Ultimate Field Guide for Britain & EuropeCollins Bird Guide
Includes the entire Western Palearctic: Europe, Africa north of the Sahara, and a portion of the Middle East
Paintings; 700+ species

Northern Europe

Birds of Northern EuropeBirds of Northern Europe
Paintings, along with some photos; 352 species

Britain and Ireland

Bird Id - British BirdsBird Id – British Birds
Photographs; 250 species
iTunes | Google Play

Birder - Guide to Birds of Britain and IrelandBirder – Guide to Birds of Britain and Ireland
Paintings; 247 species

Birds of Britain and IrelandBirds of Britain and Ireland
Paintings, along with some photos; 271 species

iBird UK and Ireland Guide to BirdsiBird UK & Ireland Guide to Birds
Paintings and photographs; 283 species

RSPB eGuide to British BirdsRSPB eGuide to British Birds
Paintings; 290+ species
iTunes | Google Play



Indian Subcontinent

eGuide to Birds of the Indian SubcontinenteGuide to Birds of the Indian Subcontinent
Paintings; 1300+ species
iTunes | Google Play


Japanese BirdsJapanese Birds
Photographs; 250 species
iTunes | Google Play


Birds of Korea ProBirds of Korea Pro
Paintings and photographs; 450 species
Google Play

Middle East

eGuide to Birds of the Middle EasteGuide to Birds of the Middle East
Paintings; 800+ species
iTunes | Google Play

Collins Bird Guide – The Ultimate Field Guide for Britain & EuropeCollins Bird Guide
Includes the entire Western Palearctic: Europe, Africa north of the Sahara, and a portion of the Middle East
Paintings; 700+ species


Birds of SingaporeBirds of Singapore
Photographs; 375 species
iTunes | Google Play



East Africa

eGuide to Birds of East AfricaeGuide to Birds of East Africa
Paintings; 1300+ species
iTunes | Google Play

North Africa

Collins Bird Guide – The Ultimate Field Guide for Britain & EuropeCollins Bird Guide
Includes the entire Western Palearctic: Europe, Africa north of the Sahara, and a portion of the Middle East
Paintings; 700+ species

Southern Africa

Newman’s Birds of Southern AfricaNewman’s Birds of Southern Africa
Paintings; 975 species

Roberts Multimedia Birds of Southern AfricaRoberts Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa
Paintings; 962 species
iTunes | Google Play

Sasol eBirds of Southern AfricaSasol eBirds of Southern Africa
Paintings, with photos available as in-app purchase; 969 species
iTunes | Google Play


Australia and Pacific Islands


The Michael Morcombe and David Stewart eGuide to the Birds of AustraliaThe Michael Morcombe and David Stewart eGuide to the Birds of Australia
Paintings; 790+ species
iTunes | Google Play

Pizzey & Knight Birds of AustraliaPizzey & Knight Birds of Australia
Paintings and photographs; 900+ species
iTunes | Google Play

New Zealand

Birds of New ZealandBirds of New Zealand
Photographs; 360+ species
iTunes | Google Play

On 1 September 1914, between midday and 1 pm, in the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio, a pigeon breathed her last, and with her died her species.
– Mark Avery, A Message from Martha

And thus, the Passenger Pigeon became extinct 100 years ago. You’re probably already aware of this, as much has been made of this centenary (it was even in the New York Times!). But this is one thing that we should make a big deal about, and things such as Project Passenger Pigeon are doing just that. But I want to focus on (what else?) some books. To mark this anniversary, no fewer than three books about the Passenger Pigeon will be published this year. I would strongly urge everyone to read one or more of these books. The story of the pigeon’s extinction is not only interesting in and of itself, but it holds many lessons that we dare not forget.

  • A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to ExtinctionA Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction
    by Joel Greenberg

    Greenberg traces the history of the pigeon through those that encountered this amazing bird. Intriguingly, he also looks into their ecological role and postulates how the landscape of eastern North America would be different today if the pigeon had survived.
    For a more detailed look at this book, check out Rick Wright’s review for the American Birding Association.

  • A Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Its Relevance TodayA Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Its Relevance Today
    by Mark Avery

    Avery frames the pigeon’s story around a trip he made to visit the bird’s former haunts. “With an element of travelogue as well as historical detective work”, he weaves in a broader view of what was happening in America at the time. But even more importantly, he doesn’t dwell exclusively in the past, but uses the pigeon to show how we can have a more sustainable future.
    Here’s a review of this book at The Well-read Naturalist.

  • The Passenger PigeonThe Passenger Pigeon
    by Errol Fuller

    Not intended to be a detailed monograph of the pigeon, Fuller’s book is instead both a celebration and memorial of this important bird. Unlike the previous two books, this one is richly illustrated with many artists’ renderings of the Passenger Pigeon and photos of live birds.

Update: And here are a few more: Pilgrims of the Air, One Came Home (a young-adult novel), and The Lost Bird Project. Thanks, Ted, for bringing attention to these.

There are many kinds of bird books, from field guides to big year narratives, but at some point you’d think that every possible book about birds will have been written. I don’t know when, or if, that will happen, but one thing is certain: it wasn’t this year. 2013 saw the publication of some books that have brought something new to a familiar category, and others the likes of which have never been seen before.

Here are the four bird books of 2013 that I consider the best.


  • The Warbler GuideThe Warbler Guide
    by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

    Let me get this out of the way – The Warbler Guide is the best identification guide available to these brilliant birds. Each of North America’s warblers is shown in a photo from just about every possible angle, including the all-important butt shot (the undertail and coverts). Vocalizations are given as much attention as the visual aspects, with annotated sonograms included for every type of song and call. An audio companion pack is available from Cornell ($5.99) with every single sound included in the book. If you want to learn warbler vocalizations, this is the best way to do it. What really makes this book so great is that it has something for birders of all skill levels, whether you’re just starting to learn warblers or want to not just identify, but age and sex, every one you see.
    My full review of The Warbler Guide

  • Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in FlightPeterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight
    by Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox

    This new Peterson Reference Guide will let you in on the secrets of seawatching. Covering 111 species from 15 families, it includes most of the birds that you can see migrating along major bodies of water (not just the ocean) in the eastern half of the continent. Note, however, that it would also be of use to anyone in the rest of North America or even Western Europe. This identification guide is extremely well done, but its real beauty is that it opens up an entirely new aspect of birding. It makes seawatching accessible to all birders, just like Hawks in Flight did for hawkwatching.
    My full review of Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight

  • Birds and PeopleBirds and People
    by Mark Cocker

    There have been books before that investigate the cultural significance of birds, but nothing like Birds and People. This book looks at each bird family and details our interaction with them and their influence on us. These accounts are utterly fascinating, dealing with everything from bird-inspired art to birds as food to conservation. You’ll learn about birds, of course, but also discover things about ourselves and why birds are so important to us. And as a nice bonus, this book is also packed with awesome photographs.
    My full review of Birds and People


Any of these could be (or already have been) designated the best bird book of the year. But when it came time for me to choose, the choice was clear. There was one book this year that I found particularly delightful…



The Unfeathered Bird

The Unfeathered Bird

by Katrina van Grouw

Unique. That is the best word to describe The Unfeathered Bird. This large, coffee table style book is filled with exquisite drawings of birds. But birds without feathers! Most are of just the skeleton, while others illustrate the bird with its skin or musculature visible. And yet they still look alive, as they are posed engaging in natural behavior (i.e. loons swimming as if underwater). Rather than macabre, I find the art beautiful and instructive. And the accompanying text may be even better, as it explains how the bird’s appearance and behavior are determined by what you see in the drawings. This book is fun to both look at and read, and will deepen your appreciation for these amazing creatures.
My full review of The Unfeathered Bird


Yes, 2013 was a good year for bird books, but next year is shaping up to be even better (two words: new Sibley).

Is there a group of birds with more field guide representation than raptors? It’s not hard to understand why, just think of the words commonly used to describe them: Majestic; fierce; enthralling. Confusing. Is there anything more frustrating than that speck in the sky that just won’t come close enough to identify? Well, how about the accipiter or juvenile buteo that just sits there for you, but you still can’t tell what the heck it is? So it’s definitely worthwhile to have a specialized guide for birds of prey. But such guides come in almost as many variations as Red-tailed Hawks. Which one (or ones) should you get?

In this comparison, I’ll briefly go over each of the major field guides to North American raptors, and then end with some recommendations. (Unless otherwise mentioned, each of these include the 34 raptors that routinely breed in the United States and Canada.) Let’s start with the newest…


The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan
Princeton University Press; 2013

Peregrine Falcon from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors


  • Similar format as The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
  • 32 double-paged “mystery photos”, where you can practice identifying and/or ageing raptors
  • Includes, by far, the most photos of each species, on average
  • Relatively extensive species accounts

Richard Crossley takes the unique format introduced in his Eastern Birds guide and expands upon it. Every bird (except Aplomado Falcon) gets at least two pages devoted exclusively to it (Red-tailed gets ten!), plus inclusion in one or more of the mystery photos. These plates, where numbered images of different species are grouped together, are my favorite feature. With the answers in the back, they afford great practice at identification and provide the easiest way to compare species against each other. The Crossley raptor guide’s insane number of photos and innovative design make it fun to study raptors.


Hawks in Flight: Second Edition

Hawks in Flight: Second Edition

by Pete Dunne, Clay Sutton, and David Sibley
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks in Flight: Second Edition


  • Wonderful text from Pete Dunne
  • Drawings by David Sibley
  • Photographs with some great captions

This guide, first published in 1988, is a classic. Now in its second edition, complete with color photos and added species, it’s even better. The photos are nice, and you can learn a great deal about hawk ID just by reading their captions. But it’s the text and drawings that set this book apart. Sibley’s drawings are black-and-white, but that’s not a bad thing – it helps draw attention to pattern and shape, the most important aspects for identifying hawks in flight. And the text…well, let’s just say that it’s not only the most helpful but is actually fun to read!

Full review of Hawks in Flight: Second Edition


Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight

by Jerry Liguori
Princeton University Press; 2005

Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors

Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors

by Jerry Liguori
Princeton University Press; 2011

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks from Every Angle

Hawks from Every Angle

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks at a Distance

Hawks at a Distance


  • The most extensive collection of in-flight hawk photos
  • Wonderful composite plates of both single and multiple species
  • Only includes birds most likely to be seen migrating (so no Gray Hawk, Snail Kite, etc)

I’m treating these together because they seem like one book that was published in two parts. Both deal exclusively with in-flight raptors that are likely to be encountered at hawkwatches. Angle uses the larger, more close-up views that you’re used to. But Distance features birds that are smaller and more distant. Combined, they contain more photos of each bird than even Crossley. Both include some really helpful composite plates. The text is fairly brief and to the point. Their unique approach and features make them invaluable to hawkwatchers.

Full reviews of Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance


Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guide)

Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guide)

by William S. Clark and Brian K. Wheeler
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2001

Peregrine Falcon from Hawks of North America (Peterson Field Guide)


  • Illustrated with both paintings and photographs
  • Includes 12 vagrants not found in most other guides (i.e. Roadside Hawk and White-tailed Eagle)
  • Relatively extensive species accounts

The paintings are the primary illustrations, depicting just about any variation and pose you could want. And since this is part of the venerable Peterson field guide series, there are arrows pointing out what to look for. I’m not a big fan of the illustrations, though; they just look off to me. The photos are a nice supplement, but they are relatively few and small. The text includes a good bit of information, mostly related to identification.


A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors

by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark
Princeton University Press; 2003

Peregrine Falcon from A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors


  • Photos of birds both perched and in-flight (though fewer than most other guides)
  • Side-by-side comparisons of similar species
  • Includes 9 vagrants

This was intended to be a supplement to the authors’ Peterson guide, but in hindsight seems more like the forerunner to Wheeler’s later guides (see below). Unlike those, this one is more portable and field-usable. But it also includes far fewer photos (and of lesser quality) and briefer text. It’s still a decent guide, but is definitely showing its age.


Raptors of Eastern North America: The Wheeler Guides Raptors of Western North America: The Wheeler Guides

The Wheeler Guides:
Raptors of Eastern North America
Raptors of Western North America

by Brian K. Wheeler
Princeton University Press; 2003
$$$$ – out of print

Peregrine Falcon from The Wheeler Guides


  • Very extensive species accounts
  • Large selection of nice photos, including perched and in-flight
  • Largest, most detailed range maps that I’ve ever seen
  • Excellent reference

Despite being “just” a decade old and published in both hardcover and paperback, the Wheeler Guides are now out of print and command big bucks on the secondary market ($100+ each!). So I hesitate to include them here, but they’re just too good to leave out! These are the best raptor references that you will find. The text is exhaustive (and exhausting, honestly), the range maps incredible, and the photographs plentiful. You know I love my bird books, but it says a lot that I still have my Wheeler Guides despite the price I could get selling them.

Full review of The Wheeler Guides



This may sound surprising (or like a cop-out), but each – well, most – of these guides have a place in your library depending on your needs. In my opinion, the best in general are Crossley and Hawks in Flight. I would recommend them to any birder, largely because I think they’re the easiest to study and learn the basics of raptor ID. If you’re looking for a guide to North American raptors, start with these.

If those are the best guides to study beforehand, the Wheeler Guides are where you would turn if you have a question or want to work out a difficult ID. If you can find your region’s volume for a reasonable price, get it.

Of all these guides, Jerry Liguori’s Hawks from Every Angle and Hawks at a Distance are the ones most targeted toward those who consider themselves hawkwatchers. If you spend much time at all around hawkwatches, you will want these two books. Other birders can certainly use them too, of course, but they aren’t as essential as Crossley and Hawks in Flight.

That leaves the Peterson and photographic guides by Clark and Wheeler. While they can still be helpful for raptor identification, they are older and have now been surpassed by the others listed here. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how much raptor photography has improved in such a relatively short time.


The Raptor Blog TourThis post is part of the Raptor Blog Tour coinciding with the release of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. Be sure to check out all the other posts celebrating these wonderful birds.

Disclosure: The books included here were complementary review copies provided by the publishers, with the exception of Hawks from Every Angle, Peterson, and the Wheeler Guides.

I’ve never done a Book of the Year post. If I were to be honest, it’s usually been my fault for procrastinating. But instead, I choose to blame the Handbook of the Birds of the World. Until this past year a new volume in this landmark series has been published annually since I started this website. And it’s really hard to argue against any of them being the best bird book of their respective year. So what would be the point?

But I have no such excuse this year. The only question is: Did another book step up to fill the void in 2012? The answer, undoubtedly, is “yes”. Without further ado, my choice for the 2012 Bird Book of the Year is…



Save the Last Dance: A Story of North American Grassland Grouse

Save the Last Dance: A Story of North American Grassland Grouse

by Noppadol Paothong and Joel Vance

As I mentioned in my review, this book is filled with amazing photographs. It’s an enjoyable read as well, letting you really get to know these birds. But all of this, even combined with the fact that this is one of my favorite groups of birds and I was excited for them to get their due, may not have been enough for me to bestow the title of Best Bird Book of the Year on this book. What cinched it is not the book in and of itself, but rather its purpose. The author’s stated goal for this book is that it would let people get to know our grassland grouse, and that once they know these birds they would want to protect them. These grouse certainly need all the friends they can get. And I honestly think this book can accomplish that. What’s more, over $2,000 has been donated to grouse conservation organizations from the sale of this book.

Save the Last Dance is not only gorgeous and informative, but also a force for conservation of the birds that it so lovingly portrays. To me, that earns it the title of 2012 Bird Book of the Year.


Honorable Mention