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 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 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)
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 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)
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)
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
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]