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ENSBC members recommend the following books about birds and the natural world. 

If you would like to recommend your favorite reads, please email



Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl

By Jonathan C. Slaght



The author, a wildlife biologist, recounts his five years of fieldwork to study the elusive Blakiston’s fish owl in the harsh terrain of Eastern Russia. 

It reads like an adventure thriller.




Mozart’s Starling

by Lyanda Lynn Haupt



A different kind of bird book by a birder and naturalist, she explores the natural history of the European starling, as she explores the musical history of Mozart and his pet starling. A thoughtful and entertaining narrative.



The Beak of the Finch: Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner
Two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, spent twenty years on an island in the Galapagos proving that Darwin did not know the strength of his own theory.  


Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky


From the publisher:
Renowned bird biologist Les Beletsky provides a succinct description of each of the 250 birds profiled, with an emphasis on their distinctive songs. Lavish full-color illustrations accompany each account, while a sleek, built-in digital audio player holds 250 corresponding songs and calls.

Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Elizabeth J. Rosenthal


From Google Books:

Roger Tory Peterson—the Renaissance man who taught Americans the joy of watching birds—also invented the modern field guide. His 1934 landmark Field Guide to the Birds was the first book designed to go outdoors and help people identify the elements of nature. 


The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik

From Google Books:

The rollicking chronicle of the 275,000-mile odyssey of three unlikely adventurers who take their bird-watching so seriously it nearly kills them. 


A Birder's Guide to the Chicago Region by Lynne Carpenter and  Joel Greenberg


Identifying more than 250 top sites for birding within a 65-mile radius from downtown Chicago, this useful guide provides maps, directions, and other information essential for discovering the birds of the area in their natural habitats.


Birding Babylon: A Soldier's Journal from Iraq by Jonathan Trouern-Trend

From Publishers Weekly:
Online journals by soldiers in Iraq often get a lot of readers, and one about bird watching proved just as appealing. Trouern-Trend's book is an edited selection of journal entries he posted while serving in Iraq with the 118th Area Support Medical Battalion in 2004. A birder since age 12, Trouern-Trend saw an opportunity in his deployment and recorded his discoveries. 

Condor: To the Brink and Back by John Nielsen

From Google:


The California condor has been described as a bird "with one wing in the grave." Flying on wings nearly ten feet wide from tip to tip, these birds thrived on the carcasses of animals like woolly mammoths....  

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman


From Booklist:
Kaufman set out on his first solo birding trip when he was 16 years old, on a Greyhound bus, starting in Wichita, Kansas, and ending up in a California jail, for it was illegal for minors to be in that state without adult supervision. So began his quest to set a record: spotting the most North American bird species in a one-year period. Kaufman did just that in 1973, sighting what was then a record 229 species on a grueling hitchhiking trip that took him from Puget Sound to the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. Other birding trips followed, from North Dakota to Alaska, from Alaska to Maine, from Maine to Mazatlan in Mexico, and from Arizona to New Jersey. On those arduous trips, too, the author hitchhiked, stopping to work at odd jobs to earn a few dollars. His book is a fascinating memoir of an obsession with birds.

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott


From Publishers Weekly:
Barcott relates the dramatic and heart-rending story of one woman's struggle to save the scarlet macaw in the tiny country of Belize. Sharon Matola, an eccentric American who directs the Belize Zoo, learned in 1999 that a Canadian power company planned to build a dam that would destroy the habitat of the 200 scarlet macaws remaining in Belize....  Barcott's compelling narrative is suspenseful right up to the last moment.  Sharon Matola passed away in March 2021.

Life List by Olivia Gentile


From Publishers Weekly:
In this biography of bird enthusiast Phoebe Snetsinger, former journalist Gentile wonders whether there is a line between dedication and obsession, and when does obsession cross the line into pathology? .... Diagnosed in her late 40s with incurable cancer and less than a year to live, she threw herself into birding, traveling worldwide, ignoring injury and danger to work on her life list for another 18 years, until killed in a bus accident in Madagascar at the age of 68. Gentile's ambivalence, celebrating Snetsinger's having lived so fully and with so much spirit but noting that she had lost the capacity to take into account her family, her health and her safety, adds a reflectiveness that Phoebe herself may have avoided in life.

Grail Bird by Tim Gallagher

From Scientific American:
This book is an outstanding example of the behind-the-recent-headlines genre. It tells the story of the obsessive quest to find the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was feared to be extinct (no confirmed sightings since 1944).... One day in February 2004 he read a posting on a canoe club Web site about a strange woodpecker that a kayaker named Gene Sparling had seen on a float trip down a remote bayou in eastern Arkansas. Less than two weeks later Gallagher and his fellow seeker, Bobby Ray Harrison, were in the swamp with Sparling, looking for the elusive bird. As readers of headlines know, they found it. The discovery gives us, Gallagher writes, "one final chance to get it right, to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive."