Spring and summer nature reads

man reading

Publishers of nature-themed books seem to be in overdrive this spring. Here are some of the best I’ve had a chance to review.

Baby birds

“Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest” by Julie Zickefoose (2016, $28, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)) will appeal to artists, birders, and animal lovers.

Zickefoose, a talented artist, writer, and wildlife rehabilitator, presents more than 400 watercolor paintings depicting images of 17 species of birds from egg to adult.

The culmination of 13 years of observations, rehabbing, painting, and writing, Baby Birds is sure to win awards and the hearts of all who read it.

Wild birds

“One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives” by Bernd Heinrich (2016, $28, HMH) is a similar natural history, but Heinrich focuses on the lives of individual adult birds.

Illustrated with the author’s own black-and-white drawings throughout and a series of color plates bound into the book’s center, One Wild Bird at a Time reveals the details of birds’ lives that can be revealed through careful observation.


“Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflie” by Sara Lewis (2016, $29.95, Princeton University Press (PUP)) fills a niche that will satisfy every curious naturalist who has ever been mesmerized by flashing fireflies on a warm summer night.

Bioluminescence captures the imagination of all who witness it; Lewis explains its purpose and how it is done.

She also explains how to use a flashlight to “talk” to fireflies, and even includes a field guide to the most common North American species.

Life on earth

“The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why it Matters” by Sean B. Carroll (2016, $24.95, (PUP)) answers the big questions about life on the planet.

The questions are straightforward, but the answers are complex. The Serengeti Rules is a unique and thought-provoking perspective to life on earth.


“Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting” by Thomas Seeley (2016, $22.95, PUP) introduced me to a new activity.

If you’ve ever wondered how beekeepers find new wild hives, this book explains it all. This is a must have book for all beekeepers and bee lovers.


The new Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers, of North America by Stephen Shunk (2016, $35, HMH) is a thorough review of the natural history of North America’s 23 species of woodpeckers.

Each species account includes a range map and details about behavior, breeding biology, and conservation status.

Crammed with more than 1,300 references and illustrations by more than 70 photographers and artists, this is the new bible of North America’s woodpeckers. It even includes an eight-page chapter on the ivory-billed woodpecker.


“Bovids of the World: Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives” by Jose Castello (2016, $35, PUP) introduces 279 species of mammals that includes only a few North American species. Most are found in Africa and Asia.

From the barely five-pound silver dik-dik from the horn of Africa to North America’s nearly 2,000-pound bison, this lavishly illustrated field guide is certain to trigger an appreciation for species we know mostly from domesticated livestock.


For kids, I have two suggestions.

“On Bird Hill” (2016, $20.99, Cornell Lab Publishing Group (CLPG)) by Jane Yolen, author of the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, is for young children, perhaps ages two to five.

It is a beautifully illustrated fantasy (artwork by Bob Marshall). Its rhyming lines will introduce young minds to the concept of birds. And it’s the kind of book that will cause budding readers to exclaim, “Read it again! Read it again!” And after just a few sessions, they will have every word memorized.

“Bird Brainiacs” by Stacy Torino and Ken Keffer (2016, $14.95, CLPG) is a spiral-bound soft cover outdoor adventure journal. It is designed to engage 8- to 13-year old kids who love birds. Older readers might use it to introduce their younger siblings to the world of birds.

The authors engage readers by asking them to write, draw, and answer questions that relate to 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 www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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