Nature lovers have many book choices


Not to rush the holiday season, but I want to be sure readers have time to consider some of this fall’s new nature-themed books.

If you need more information about a title, search for it on

Controlling pets

Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, by Peter Marra and Chris Santella (2016, University of Princeton Press, $24.95) is a must-read for those interested in conservation biology.

It’s my choice for conservation book-of-the-year. The evidence is overwhelming — cats make great indoor pets, but outdoor cats wreak ecological havoc by killing tens of millions of birds, and small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians every year.

In this indictment of unowned free-roaming cats, the authors explain why pet cats belong indoors and why feral cats are an ecological scourge that must be controlled to preserve native biodiversity.

Furthermore, outdoor cats face early, grizzly death by cars, trucks, other feral cats, dogs, coyotes, great-horned owls, gunshots and various wildlife diseases and parasites.

Primates in research

Voracious Science & Vulnerable Animals: A Primate Scientist’s Ethical Journey, by John Gluck (2016, University of Chicago Press, $17.50) traces the evolution of one researcher’s path from research scientist to ethicist.

If you’ve ever had concerns about how captive primates are used in psychological research, you’ll find this a compelling read. Many primates can live for decades and their care extends far beyond their utility as research subjects.

Waste ground

Common Ground: Encounters with Nature at the Edges of Life, by Rob Owen (2016, University of Chicago Press, $29) makes the point that it’s not necessary to go somewhere exotic to find nature.

After living ten years in London, Owen moved to northern England and became fascinated with a square-mile of “waste ground” at the edge of town. His story proves that curious eyes and an inquiring mind can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.


Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence by Nathan Emery (2016, University of Princeton Press, $29.95) explores how our understanding of avian intelligence has evolved over the last 20 years.

Once thought to be largely creatures driven almost solely by instinct, many birds are capable of sophisticated communication, navigation, tool use and social behavior.

Crows, jays, and parrots are at the top of the smart bird list.

Why Birds Matter: Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services by multiple authors (2016, University of Chicago Press, $45) is an impressive collection of papers that explains how birds fit into our world.

It examines birds’ roles in pollination, seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, how birds engineer their habitats, and their economic value.

As the subtitle suggests, this book is geared to academic and professional readers, but any serious student of birds will appreciate Why Birds Matter.

Essential Guides

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America: An essential guide by Jesse Fagan and Oliver Komar (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) is a terrific new addition to the Peterson Field Guide series.

If you plan a birding trip to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras, this is an essential field guide. The text covers 827 species and full color range maps, 1,000 beautiful illustrations, and detailed species descriptions that include valuable tidbits about ecology and behavior.

Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide, by Nick Athanas and Paul Greenfield (2016, Princeton University Press, $45) covers 946 species (including 77 species of hummingbirds!) and nearly 1,500 color photos.

The photographs alone are worth the price of the book. Species accounts and maps appear on facing pages so all necessary information is easily accessible. This is the book I wish I’d had on my first three trips to Ecuador.

If I ever get back to Ecuador, this book will go along.

Wildlife of the Galapagos: A 2nd Edition, by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking (2016, Princeton University Press, $19.95) covers 400-plus species of birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and plants.

More than 650 color photos, maps and drawings accompany the comprehensive text.

This is the only wildlife guide first-time visitors to the Enchanted Islands will need.


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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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