You’ll want to find these books under the tree

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If you’ve got some avid readers on your holiday gift list, here are some titles I enthusiastically recommend.

The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with America’s Most Iconic Birds by Paul Bannick (2008, $24.95, Mountaineers Books) is my book of the year.

Stunningly illustrated with more than 130 color photographs by the author, this book is perfect for everyone who loves these two groups of birds. What I appreciate most is that many of the photos are action shots that obviously required extensive preplanning and field work. Shots of hunting snowy and great gray owls are among my favorites.

The book concludes with a mini field guide, consisting of thumbnail sketches of each species that include much more information than typically is found in most identification guides.

Plus, The Owl and the Woodpecker comes with a CD of the calls and drums of all 41 species of North American owls and woodpeckers.

Milkweed, Monarchs, and More: A Field Guide to the Invertebrate Community in the Milkweed Patch by Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser and Michael Quinn (2003, $9, http://basrelief.org ) is a terrific field guide that had escaped my attention until recently.

It’s ideal for older students and adults who enjoy the interactions of milkweeds and insects. If you love monarch butterflies, and especially if you raise their caterpillars and release them after they transform into adults, this book should be part of your library.

For younger readers (fourth grade reading level), Milkweed Visitors by Mary Holland (2006, $10.95, http://basrelief.org) introduces the herbivores, nectivores, and predators that call the milkweed patch home.

The Gulf Stream: Tiny Plankton, Giant Bluefin, and the Amazing Story of the Powerful River in the Atlantic by Stan Ulanski (2008, $28, University of North Carolina Press) is as much a cultural history of the Gulf Stream as it is a study of its natural history.

You’ll discover that the Gulf Stream is an amazing place where slavery, piracy, tourism, sport fishing, plankton, and ocean trade intersect. You’ll learn that it has a major influence of the weather of the east coast. And you’ll learn that, from the sky, the Gulf Stream is a visible river in the ocean.

A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder has Endangered our Food Supply by Michael Stacker (2008, $24.95, Lyons Press) delves into the disturbing decline of honeybees and offers compelling evidence that the problem is manmade.

You’ll discover that it was first observed in France in 1994. And disturbingly, you’ll learn how politics and industry can influence “objective” scientific research.

But Stacker also offers hope in the form of chapters titled, The Beekeeper Solution, Plant a Bee Garden and They Will Come, and Plan Bee.

Bringing Home Nature: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens by Doug Tallamy (2007, $27.95, Timber Press) makes the case that “going native” means more than just planting native vegetation. Native insects are inextricably bound to native plants; when native plants disappear, so do the native insects that depend on them.

Not surprisingly, birds and other insectivores also suffer the consequences of ecosystem simplification when exotic species invade. Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, bases his conclusions on his own extensive research and explains how even small gardens can help maintain biodiversity.

Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (2008, $40, National Geographic) is an encyclopedic reference book. If it’s a plant and you eat it, its origins are explained in the fascinating work. Chapters cover fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, herbs, spices, plants sugars, and plants used in beverages.

You’ll learn that Jerusalem artichokes originated in North America, that yams and sweet potatoes have widely different origins (yams from North Africa and sweet potatoes from Peru), and that three types of grains (maize, wheat, and rice) make up nearly 90 percent of the world’s grain production and 40 percent of the world’s calories.

The appendix includes extensive nutritional tables that list the vitamin, mineral, fiber, and protein content of the foods covered in the book. Medical professionals and nutritionists will find this information invaluable.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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