Books for the nature lovers on your list


Great books make great gifts. Here are some titles worthy of consideration for nature-loving family and friends on your holiday gift list.

Winter birds

Birds in Winter: Surviving the Most Challenging Season by Roger Pasquier (2019, Princeton University Press, $29.95) has been incubating in the author’s mind for decades. Ever since writing Watching Birds: An Introduction to Ornithology in the mid 1970s, Pasquier wanted to write this book, but publishers thought the topic was too narrow. Birds in Winter proves they were wrong. Among the details of avian ecology and behavior Pasquier reveals:

  • Ptarmigans in northern Alaska eat buds of willow twigs that reach above the snow.
  • Black-capped chickadees in northern forests commonly visit bird feeders, but access to supplemental winter food is only important during the most severe winter weather.
  • Various bird species cope with cold winter temperatures by shivering, fluffing their feathers to increase their insulating ability, and some even roost in deep snow where temperatures are warmer than the air above the snow.

Birds in Winter synthesizes what ornithologists know about avian behavior and ecology during the coldest times of the year. It’s the perfect book to keep by a comfy chair near the bird feeders.

Food for thought

If you’ve ever wondered about the impact the human appetite has had on plants and animals, Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food by Lenore Newman (2019, ECW Press, $24.95) is for you. Newman wonders early on why most of the food humans eat comes from so few species. Most of our plant-based-calories come from corn, rice, and wheat; most of our animal protein comes from chickens, cows, pigs, and ducks. Did the human appetite really drive certain species to or near extinction? Think mammoths, dodos, bison, passenger pigeons, among others. It’s certainly food for thought.

The Pig: A Natural History by Richard Lutwyche (2019, Princeton University Press, $27.95) is everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pigs — their biology, ecology, behavior; how they became domesticated; pigs in literature, movies, and art; and much more. It’s all here and makes fascinating reading.


My mother would have loved Elephant by Errol Fuller (2019, Princeton University Press, $29.95). For reasons she never explained, she loved elephants and collected all sorts of elephant memorabilia. Lavishly illustrated with a gallery of spectacular color photos, Elephant explores the worlds of both the Asian and African species.

Readers will learn about elephant intelligence, their social behavior, ivory, how they grieve fallen comrades, and their surprising artistic ability. Beware, however, some photos and stories are sad and depressing and thus sound a clarion call for elephant conservation.

My favorite chapter is entitled “Elephant Curiosities.” I learned, for example, that elephants have incredible memories. Herd matriarchs must learn the identities of all members of her group so she can lead them to feeding and watering areas over the course of years. Elephants can carry grudges against cruel keepers and trainers for surprisingly long periods of time before exacting revenge. And unlike most animals, elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror.

For beginning birders

All About Backyard Birds (2017, Cornell Lab Publishing Group, $14.95) is a field guide-sized introduction to birding. The opening section of the book, Birding 101, explains how to find, watch, and identify birds. It also describes the basic equipment required. Part 2 explains how to attract birds to the backyard. Part 3 opens the door to citizen science. And the final section is an ID guide to 120 common backyard species. This is an ideal choice for a beginning birder, young or old.

Coloring books

In recent years, adult coloring books have become popular. Coloring relieves stress and keeps mature minds busy and sharp. Three recent titles from the Cornell Lab Publishing Group are priced at $15.95 each and are suitable for pencils, markers, and watercolor pencils, and each concludes with a gallery of colorful images of the featured species.

Birds of Paradise: A Coloring Expedition (2016) shines a spotlight on 39 species of some of the world’s most spectacular birds. Backyard Birds and Blossoms (2017) includes 35 images and a 30-inch fold-out poster. And America’s Favorite Birds (2016) covers 40 of our most popular wild birds.

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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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