Nature books make great holiday gifts


I’ve got a bookshelf of titles to recommend as holiday gifts this year, so each gets just a thumbnail description.

Suffice to say, if it’s on this list, I recommend it:

Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species (Stackpole Books, 2010, $34.95) by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland is the first truly original field guide to appear in years.

Lavishly illustrated with more than 500 color photos of feathers from 397 species, this book is an invaluable resource for curious naturalists and birders. The first 66 pages deal with the anatomy, structure, and function of feathers in general. The remaining 292 pages of Bird Feathers is a field guide.

Though no entire birds are illustrated, each account includes an icon noting wing type, a range map, feather length and a color photograph illustrating examples of flight and body feathers.

Bird Feathers is a must-have book for naturalists who want to identify the feathers and sometimes even feather fragments they find while birding, hiking, hunting, and fishing.

Identifying and Feeding Birds by Bill Thompson III (2010, Houghton Mifflin, $14.95) is both a field guide to 130 backyard birds and a guide to attracting them. The author is the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest.

Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year by Robert Michael Pyle (2010, Houghton Mifflin, ($27.00) tells the story of Pyle’s “big year” — a 33,000-mile, $16,132 quest to see as many of America’s butterflies in one calendar year, 2008, as he could.

Part travelogue, part natural history, this is a wonderfully vicarious read.

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg (2010, Penguin Press, $25.95) explores four fish — salmon, tuna, bass, and cod – that have historically defined the term seafood and explains why they are truly the last wild food.

Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate by Jennifer A. Mather, Roland C. Anderson, and James B. Wood (2010, Timber Press, $25.95) is a fascinating natural history of some of the ocean’s most intriguing creatures.

“Intelligent invertebrate” may seem an oxymoron, but Octopus emphatically dispels that notion.

Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America by Eric Jay Dolan (2010, Norton, $29.95) tells the story of the 300-year rise and fall of fur trade in America. It opened the American West, it enriched and exploited Native Americans, and it played a surprisingly important role in many important historical events. If you enjoyed the tales of the Lewis and Clark expedition, this one’s for you.

What’s Eating You? People and Parasites by Eugene Kaplan (2010, Princeton University Press, $26.95) is not for the queasy or faint of heart. But if you’re the least bit curious about the creatures that can inhabit human bodies, I promise you’ll be fascinated.

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul (2010, Princeton University Press, $35) covers more than 735 species and is illustrated with more than 600 images, many in color. If this book had been published 50 years ago, I might be a paleontologist today.

Running Out of Water; The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve our Most Precious Resource by Peter Rogers and Susan Leal (2010, Palgrave Macmillan, $25.00). Forget coal, oil, and natural gas. If we ruin the supply of fresh water on the planet, we’re doomed as a species. This book explains why and offers hope.

Bird Songs Bible: The Complete Illustrate Reference for North American Birds (2010, Chronicle Books, $125) is a comprehensive reference book. Edited by ornithologist Les Beletsky, Bird Songs Bible is an over-sized hardcover book that runs 536 pages. It covers 747 species, including Hawaiian species, and features range maps and beautiful color illustrations of every species.

What really sets Bird Songs Bible apart from other ID guides is its built-in, state-of-the-art digital audio player. Punch in the number of any species and hear its voice, direct from the library of sounds at Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology. The Bird Songs Bible audio module covers all the breeding birds of North America. It even comes with its own protective carrying case for taking it to bird club meetings and presentations. Clearly this is not a field guide; it is a reference book for serious birders who can appreciate a one-stop reference book.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via e-mail at his website,


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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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