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Field guides about birds, a George Bird Grinnell biography, and more books

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We reviewed field guides about oceanic birds, the birds of Massachusettes, the birds of Wisconsin, a biography on George Bird Grinnell, and more books in the “Bookshelf” section of our November/December 2019 issue.

Oceanic Birds of the World: A Photo GuideOceanic Birds of the World: A Photo Guide, by Steve N. G. Howell and Kirk Zufelt, Princeton University Press, 2019, paperback, 360 pages, $35.

This essential new guide to the birds of the oceans is both beautiful and practical.  It includes more than 2,200 color photos of more than 270 bird species and is chock-full of field marks, range maps, tips on how to observe and identify birds at sea, and more. Most of all, it offers a sense of wonder about the world’s petrels, albatrosses, and other seabirds — creatures that live out their lives above the waves. 

Learn more on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the WestGrinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West, by John Taliaferro, Liveright Publishing, 2019, hardcover, 624 pages, $35.

Who knows where conservation would be today if George Bird Grinnell had not come along. In his 30s, distressed by the loss of bird species, Grinnell founded the first Audubon Society, and during the early 1900s, in his late 50s, he advocated for the establishment of Glacier National Park. Later, he was a champion of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Thanks to author John Taliaferro, we have a thorough, engaging account of this environmental trailblazer.

Learn more on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


A Short Philosophy of BirdsA Short Philosophy of Birds, by Philippe J. Dubois and Elise Rousseau, Dey Street , an imprint of HarperCollins, 2019, hardcover, 176 pages, $19.99. 

This slim book, first published in France in 2018, is now available to North American readers. The authors, an ornithologist and a philosopher, suggest through a series of short essays that birds can teach people a lot about life, if we pay attention. For example, they consider whether art is something only humans create or whether birds’ nests and plumage are also forms of art. Elsewhere, they muse about the incredible navigational abilities of godwits and cuckoos — and Mongolian nomads, who can find their way in the desert without a GPS unit. 

Learn more on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Flight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through BirdsFlight Calls: Exploring Massachusetts through Birds, by John R. Nelson, Bright Leaf, an imprint of University of Massachusetts Press, 2019, 288 pages, $22.95 (paperback), $90 (cloth).

John R. Nelson is as talented a writer as you will find in the birding community today, so I was delighted to learn of this new book, a collection of 24 of his essays. Among them is “Whip-poor-will Synchronicity,” first published several years ago in this magazine. As the subtitle of Flight Calls says, Nelson explores Massachusetts through its birds, but you don’t have to be a Bay State birder to appreciate these essays. They convey a universal sense of wonder about birds, style, humor, and a smart mix of natural and cultural history and human foibles that anyone will enjoy.

Read an excerpt from Flight Calls about streets with avian names that are barren of birds.

Learn more on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


The Art of the Bird: The History of Ornithological Art Through Forty ArtistsThe Art of the Bird: The History of Ornithological Art Through Forty Artists, by Roger J. Lederer, University of Chicago Press, 2019, hardcover, 224 pages, $35. 

While depictions of birds can be traced back 40,000 years, the author of this stunning book focuses on the last 400 years — the peak of bird art. As you would expect, the book features well-known artists like Catesby, Wilson, Audubon, Lear, Fuertes, Peterson, and our own David Sibley. Plus we meet equally talented creatives such as Lilian Marguerite Medland, Raymond Harris-Ching, Hilary Burn, and others who push the boundaries of birds in art. 

Learn more on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of WisconsinAmerican Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin, by Charles Hagner, Scott & Nix, 2019, paperback, 368 pages, $24.95.

Former BirdWatching editor and current head of Bird City Wisconsin Chuck Hagner has written the most recent addition to the series of state field guides from the ABA, and no surprise — it’s terrific. The book begins with an overview of the Badger State’s birds and landscapes as well as a month-by-month summary of birding in the state. The bulk of the book features species accounts for 262 regularly occurring species, 36 carefully chosen rare species (including Kirtland’s Warbler and Whooping Crane), and one casual species (Purple Sandpiper). The accounts describe where and when to look for the birds — essential info for any Wisconsin birder.

Learn more on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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