Book News

One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual LivesOne Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives
by Bernd Heinrich

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

In his modern classics One Man’s Owl and Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich has written memorably about his relationships with wild ravens and a great horned owl.

In One Wild Bird at a Time, Heinrich returns to his great love: close, day-to-day observations of individual wild birds. There are countless books on bird behavior, but Heinrich argues that some of the most amazing bird behaviors fall below the radar of what most birds do in aggregate. Heinrich’s “passionate observations [that] superbly mix memoir and science” (New York Times Book Review) lead to fascinating questions — and sometimes startling discoveries. A great crested flycatcher, while bringing food to the young in their nest, is attacked by the other flycatcher nearby. Why? A pair of Northern flickers hammering their nest-hole into the side of Heinrich’s cabin deliver the opportunity to observe the feeding competition between siblings, and to make a related discovery about nest-cleaning. One of a clutch of redstart warbler babies fledges out of the nest from twenty feet above the ground, and lands on the grass below. It can’t fly. What will happen next?


Can I make a confession, at the risk of losing any and all credibility? I’ve never read a Bernd Heinrich book. Oh, I have several on my shelves; I just haven’t gotten around to reading them. But this one I’m making time for. I’m only a couple chapters into it, but already have realized that I absolutely have to go back and read his other works as well. Heinrich’s observations of these particular, individual birds are fascinating, and a nice counterpoint to just about every other bird book out there.


One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives
by Bernd Heinrich
Hardcover; 224 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9780544387638

Gorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other StoriesGorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other Stories
by Sue Ellis

From Austin Macauley Publishers:

Gwendolen Goose is best friends with Katie, who lives on the farm next to her pond. She is so grateful when Katie brings her bread after school. When Katie’s mum hurts her leg whilst out walking, Gwendolen must fly out to help!

In Gorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other Stories, Sue Ellis presents six tales from a bird’s eye view’. She hopes to inspire children to overcome adversity and become the best version of themselves.


This children’s book, targeted at ages 4-10, was published a little while ago, but I just recently became aware of it. I’ll be reading it with my kids.


Gorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other Stories
by Sue Ellis
Paperback; 49 pages
Austin Macauley Publishers; October 30, 2015
ISBN: 9781784555719

The Genius of BirdsThe Genius of Birds
by Jennifer Ackerman

From Penguin Press:

Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. In fact, according to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. Like humans, many birds have enormous brains relative to their size. Although small, bird brains are packed with neurons that allow them to punch well above their weight.

In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about. As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research— the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia, the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia, the ravaged mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy and the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states—Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are revolutionizing our view of what it means to be intelligent.

Consider, as Ackerman does, the Clark’s nutcracker, a bird that can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over dozens of square miles and remember where it put them several months later; the mockingbirds and thrashers, species that can store 200 to 2,000 different songs in a brain a thousand times smaller than ours; the well-known pigeon, which knows where it’s going, even thousands of miles from familiar territory; and the New Caledonian crow, an impressive bird that makes its own tools.

But beyond highlighting how birds use their unique genius in technical ways, Ackerman points out the impressive social smarts of birds. They deceive and manipulate. They eavesdrop. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war. They tease. They share. They cultivate social networks. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They alert one another to danger. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve.

This elegant scientific investigation and travelogue weaves personal anecdotes with fascinating science. Ackerman delivers an extraordinary story that will both give readers a new appreciation for the exceptional talents of birds and let them discover what birds can reveal about our changing world. Incredibly informative and beautifully written, The Genius of Birds richly celebrates the triumphs of these surprising and fiercely intelligent creatures.


Birders should be the last to be surprised by the intelligence of birds. And yet, the more I read about them, the more surprised I get. I’ve yet to read beyond this book’s introduction, but it looks like a good starting point for anyone who’s not familiar with the amazing capabilities possessed by birds.


The Genius of Birds
by Jennifer Ackerman
Hardcover; 352 pages
Penguin Press; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9781594205217

The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird's EggThe Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg
by Tim Birkhead

From Bloomsbury Publishing:

Renowned ornithologist Tim Birkhead opens this gripping story as a female guillemot chick hatches, already carrying her full quota of tiny eggs within her undeveloped ovary. As she grows into adulthood, only a few of her eggs mature, are released into the oviduct, and are fertilized by sperm stored from copulation that took place days or weeks earlier. Within a matter of hours, the fragile yolk is surrounded by albumen and the whole is gradually encased within a turquoise jewel of a shell. Soon afterward the fully formed egg is expelled onto a bare rocky ledge, where it will be incubated for four weeks before another chick emerges and the life cycle begins again.

The Most Perfect Thing is about how eggs in general are made, fertilized, developed, and hatched. The eggs of most birds spend just 24 hours in the oviduct; however, that journey takes 48 hours in cuckoos, which surreptitiously lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. From the earliest times, the study of birds’ ovaries and ova (eggs) played a vital role in the quest to unravel the mysteries of fertilization and embryo development in humans. Birkhead uses birds’ eggs as wondrous portals into natural history, enlivened by the stories of naturalists and scientists, including Birkhead and his students, whose discoveries have advanced current scientific knowledge of reproduction.


Birkhead knows what he’s talking about – he’s an accomplished ornithologist – and he is able to communicate that knowledge clearly and entertainingly. Just read the short preface of this book; if you’re not hooked…well, you will be!


The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg
by Tim Birkhead
Hardcover; 304 pages
Bloomsbury; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9781632863690

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

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in bird nests, or what happens after a fledgling leaves the nest, come along on Julie’s sensitive exploration of often-uncharted ornithological ground.

This beautiful book is as much an art book as it is a natural history, something readers have come to expect from Julie Zickefoose. More than 400 watercolor paintings show the breathtakingly swift development of seventeen different species of wild birds. Sixteen of those species nest on Julie’s wildlife sanctuary, so she knows the birds intimately, and writes about them with authority. To create the bulk of this extraordinary work, Julie would borrow a wild nestling, draw it, then return it to its nest every day until it fledged. Some were orphans she raised by hand, giving the ultimate insider’s glimpse into their lives. In sparkling prose, Julie shares a lifetime of insight about bird breeding biology, growth, and cognition.

As an artist and wildlife rehabilitator, Julie possesses a unique skill set that includes sketching and painting rapidly from life as well as handling delicate hatchlings. She is uniquely positioned to create such an opus, and in fact, nothing like it has ever been attempted. Julie has many fans, and she will gain many more with this unparalleled work.


This is a gorgeous book, both the art and the design. I’ve only read the introduction so far, but I’m hooked!


Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest
by Julie Zickefoose
Hardcover; 352 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9780544206700

Wildlife of the GalapagosWildlife of the Galápagos, Second Edition
by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking

From Princeton University Press:

Since its first publication more than a decade ago, Wildlife of the Galápagos has become the definitive, classic field guide to the natural splendors of this amazing part of the world. Now fully updated, this essential and comprehensive guide has been expanded to include the more than 400 commonly seen birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and plants, and other coastal and marine life of this wondrous archipelago. Over 650 stunning color photographs, maps, and drawings are accompanied by accessible, descriptive text. This new edition includes information about all the common fish of the region and Spanish names are featured for the first time. There is also a revised section that discusses the islands’ history, climate, geology, and conservation, with the most current details on visitor sites.

This is the perfect portable companion for all nature enthusiasts interested in the astounding Galápagos.

  • Covers 400+ commonly seen species, including birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and plants, and other coastal and marine life
  • Illustrated with over 650 color photographs, maps, and drawings
  • Includes maps of visitor sites
  • Written by wildlife experts with extensive knowledge of the area
  • Includes information on the history, climate, geology, and conservation of the islands


When I finally get to the Galapagos, this guide will be with me. (Hopefully that will be before a third edition is necessary!)


Wildlife of the Galápagos, Second Edition
by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking
Paperback; 272 pages
Princeton University Press; January 5, 2016
ISBN: 9780691170428

The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar NightjarThe Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar
by Vernon R.L. Head

From Pegasus:

Part detective story, part love affair, and pure adventure storytelling at its best, a celebration of the thrill of exploration and the lure of wild places during the search for the elusive Nechisar Nightjar.

In 1990, a group of Cambridge scientists arrived at the Plains of Nechisar in Ethiopia. On that expedition, they collected more than two dozen specimens, saw more than three hundred species of birds, and a plethora of rare butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, mammals, and plants. As they were gathering up their findings, a wing of an unidentified bird was packed into a brown paper bag. It was to become the most famous wing in the world.

This wing would set the world of science aflutter. Experts were mystified. The wing was entirely unique. It was like nothing they had ever seem before. Could a new species be named based on just one wing? After much discussion, a new species was announced: Nechisar Nightjar, or Camprimulgus Solala, which means “only wing.” And so birdwatchers like Vernon began to dream.

Twenty-two years later, he joins an expedition of four to find this rarest bird in the world. In this gem of nature writing, Vernon captivates and enchants as he recounts the searches by spotlight through the Ethiopian plains, and allows the reader to mediate on nature, exploration, our need for wild places, and the human compulsion to name things. Rarest Bird is a celebration of a certain way of seeing the world, and will bring out the explorer in in everyone who reads it.


Ever since I first heard about the Nechisar Nightjar, I’ve been intrigued and wanted to know more. So I’m really looking forward to reading this. (Note: this book was first published in 2014, but this is the first time it has been published in the United States.)


The Rarest Bird in the World: The Search for the Nechisar Nightjar
by Vernon R.L. Head
Hardcover; 272 pages
Pegasus; March 7, 2016
ISBN: 9781605989631

Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification GuideWaterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide
by Sébastien Reeber

From Princeton University Press:

This is the ultimate guide for anyone who wants to identify the ducks, geese, and swans of North America, Europe, and Asia. With 72 stunning color plates (that include more than 920 drawings), over 650 superb photos, and in-depth descriptions, this book brings together the most current information on 84 species of Eurasian and North American waterfowl, and on more than 100 hybrids. The guide delves into taxonomy, identification features, determination of age and sex, geographic variations, measurements, voice, molt, and hybridization. In addition, the status of each species is treated with up-to-date details on distribution, population size, habitats, and life cycle. Color plates and photos are accompanied by informative captions and 85 distribution maps are also provided. Taken together, this is an unrivaled, must-have reference for any birder with an interest in the world’s waterfowl.

  • A guide to the 84 species of ducks, geese, and swans of Europe, Asia, and North America
  • 72 color plates with more than 920 illustrations of most plumages and subspecies, both in flight and standing
  • More than 650 color photos
  • Details on taxonomy, identification features, determination of age and sex, geographic variations, measurements, voice, molt, hybridization, habitat and life cycle, range and populations, and status in captivity
  • 85 distribution maps
  • Descriptions and illustrations of more than 100 hybrids regularly encountered in the wild


Wow, these plates show just about everything! Each species by sex, with geographic variation and eclipse plumages; in flight; even a full page of nothing but swan heads! And all these hybrids…this book may be worth it for them alone. In short, this is the most comprehensive, up-to-date identification guide for these birds. It would pair nicely with Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, which covers everything else about waterfowl.


Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide
by Sébastien Reeber
Hardcover; 656 pages
Princeton University Press; February 16, 2016
ISBN: 9780691162669

American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of PennsylvaniaAmerican Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Pennsylvania
by George L. Armistead and Brian E. Small

From Scott & Nix, Inc.:

Pennsylvania is one of the best places to go birding in North America. From the shores of Lake Erie in the northwest and the great river basins of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela to the central Allegheny Mountains and east along the Pocono Mountains and the rich farmlands and rolling hills of the south, the Keystone State has a great diversity of birds. The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Pennsylvania includes more than 275 species birders are most likely to see in the commonwealth. Illustrated with hundreds of crisp, color photographs, it includes descriptions of each birds along with tips of when and where to see them, written by an expert Pennsylvanian birder. It’s the perfect companion for anyone interested in the amazing diversity and beauty of Pennsylvania’s birds.


I’m a fan of this series of field guides from the ABA (here are my thoughts on the first couple entries in the series). So while I’ve never birded Pennsylvania, I’m confident in recommending this guide to those who do, especially newer birders.


American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Pennsylvania
by George L. Armistead and Brian E. Small
Flexicover with dust jacket; 352 pages
Scott & Nix, Inc.; January 18, 2016
ISBN: 9781935622529

Flight Paths: A Field Journal of Hope, Heartbreak, and Miracles With New York's Bird PeopleFlight Paths: A Field Journal of Hope, Heartbreak, and Miracles With New York’s Bird People
by Darryl Mcgrath

From State University of New York Press:

How a small group of New York biologists brought the peregrine falcon and bald eagle back from the brink of extinction.

In the late 1970s, the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon were heading toward extinction, victims of the combined threats of DDT, habitat loss, and lax regulation. Flight Paths tells the story of how a small group of New York biologists raced against nature’s clock to bring these two beloved birds back from the brink in record-setting numbers.

In a narrative that reads like a suspense tale, Darryl McGrath documents both rescue projects in never-before-published detail. At Cornell University, a team of scientists worked to crack the problem of how to breed peregrine falcons in captivity and then restore them to the wild. Meanwhile, two young, untested biologists tackled the overwhelming assignment of rebuilding the bald eagle population from the state’s last nesting pair, one of whom (the female) was sterile.

McGrath interweaves this dramatic retelling with contemporary accounts of four at-risk species: the short-eared owl, the common loon, the Bicknell’s thrush, and the piping plover. She worked alongside biologists as they studied these elusive subjects in the Northeast’s most remote regions, and the result is a story that combines vivid narrative with accessible science and is as much a tribute to these experts as it is a call to action for threatened birds.

Readers are taken to a snow-covered meadow as an owl hunts her prey, a loon family’s secluded pond, an eagle nest above the Hudson River, and a mountaintop at dusk in search of the Bicknell’s thrush, one of the planet’s rarest birds. Combining a little-known chapter of New York’s natural history with a deeply personal account of a lifelong devotion to birds, Flight Paths is not only a story of our rapidly changing environment and a tribute to some of New York’s most heroic biologists, but also a captivating read for anyone who has ever thrilled to the sight of a rare bird.


It’s widely known that the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and other species were saved from the ravages of DDT. This book provides a behind-the-scenes look into how they were saved.


Flight Paths: A Field Journal of Hope, Heartbreak, and Miracles With New York’s Bird People
by Darryl Mcgrath
Paperback; 378 pages
State University of New York Press; February, 2016
ISBN: 9781438459264