Birding books you should consider reading


Over the last few months, a stack of new books has accumulated on my desk. Here are a few of the titles I recommend.

Let’s begin with a children’s book.

Fire Bird: The Kirtland’s Warbler Story, by Amy Hansen (2017, $18.95, Arbutus Press) explains how fire is essential to the life cycle of this endangered species that nests in young jack pine forests in north central Michigan and winters in the Bahamas.

Kid test

I read Fire Bird to my five-year-old grandson just a few days ago. He sat quietly engrossed for the entire 32 pages, so it passed the “kid test.” And he loved the colorful artwork by Janet Oliver that illustrates the story.

The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World, by Abigail Tucker (2016, $26, Simon & Schuster) is an easy to read natural history of domestic house cats. It covers everything from the threat domestic cats pose to birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to misguided efforts to control feral cat populations with trap, neuter, and release (TNR) programs.

It also points out that while populations of most cat species around the world are plummeting rapidly, domestic cat numbers have exploded.

I enjoyed Lion immensely, and I recommend it to cat lovers, cat haters, and ecologists everywhere. And by the way, the cover art featuring an oversized kitten perched on an undersized living room sofa says it all.

Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird, by Katie Fallon (2017, $27.95, University Press of New England) is a love letter from an ardent admirer to an ugly bird with some disgusting habits. Vulture follows a year in the life of a turkey vulture, from its food habits which cleanse the landscape of dead stuff to its breeding, parenting and migratory habits.

Fallon truly loves these skillful gliders, and she hopes that readers will see the light. Every time I’ve seen a vulture this year, this book has come to mind, so I guess I’m hooked.

Raptor lovers

If you love diurnal raptors, Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons, and Vultures of North America by Pete Dunne (2016, $26.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was written for you. Dunne is a master birder and lifelong raptor enthusiast.

He loves all diurnal raptures as much as Katie Fallon loves vultures. From American kestrels to zone-tailed hawks, each species including the endangered California condor gets a complete species account.

Birds of Prey is destined to become the go-to reference anytime anyone needs natural history facts about any of these 34 species. Kevin Karlson is one of 20-plus photographers whose work illustrates the book.

Karlson is credited with “photo research and production.” I don’t know exactly what this means, but I do know that the visual imagery throughout the book is stunning.

Raptor fans will want to own this book just for the color photos.

Good Birders Still Don’t Wear White: Passionate Birders Share the Joys of Watching Birds, Lisa White and Jeffrey Gordon, editors (2017, $13.95, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a lighthearted collection of short essays about birding by some of the best-known names in the business.

Birding location

Pete Dunne, for example, writes about where and when to bird; Marie Reed writes about photographing birds; Richard Crossley explains how failure can lead to discovery, and Carlos Bethancourt tells why being a bird guide in Panama is the best job ever.

(I’ve birded with Carlos, and I can tell you that he is one of the best bird guides ever.) If this title sounds familiar, it’s a follow-up to Good Birders Don’t Wear White (2007). Books like these make great bedtime reading.

Each essay is independent and just a few pages long.

Finally, Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians, by Joe Quirk, with Patri Friedman (2017, $27, Simon & Schuster) is a wake-up call for all who doubt the reality of climate change. The title is self-explanatory.


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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. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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