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 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 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 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
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).