The Thing with Feathers: Books on Birds

birds in flight
Photo courtesy Don McCullough on Flickr under CC License.

It’s National Bird Day so grab a book and learn more about these amazing small flying dinosaur descendants. Whether your tastes run to ravens, goshawks, or parrots, the library has books for lovers of all kinds of birds as well as just some darn good stories about birds and the way that humans relate to them.

Mind of the Raven book coverMind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich

In Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich, award-winning naturalist, finds himself dreaming of ravens and decides he must get to the truth about this animal reputed to be so intelligent. Much like a sleuth, Heinrich involves us in his quest, letting one clue lead to the next. But as animals can only be spied on by getting quite close, Heinrich adopts ravens, thereby becoming a raven father,” as well as observing them in their natural habitat, studying their daily routines, and in the process painting a vivid picture of the world as lived by the ravens. At the heart of this book are Heinrich’s love and respect for these complex and engaging creatures, and through his keen observation and analysis, we become their intimates too.

H Is for Hawk book coverH Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer, Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood, but she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life. Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

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

Every year on January 1, a quirky crowd of adventurers storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year — a grand, grueling, expensive, and occasionally vicious, “extreme” 365-day marathon of birdwatching. For three men in particular, 1998 would be a whirlwind, a winner-takes-nothing battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on their potholed road to glory, they brave broiling deserts, roiling oceans, bug-infested swamps, a charge by a disgruntled mountain lion, and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man. Prize-winning journalist Mark Obmascik creates a rollicking, dazzling narrative of the 275,000-mile odyssey of these three obsessives as they fight to the finish to claim the title in the greatest — or maybe the worst — birding contest of all time. With an engaging, unflappably wry humor, Obmascik memorializes their wild and crazy exploits and, along the way, interweaves an entertaining smattering of science about birds and their own strange behavior with a brief history of other bird-men and -women.

Alex & Me book coverAlex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg

Alex & Me is the remarkable true story of an extraordinary relationship between psychologist Irene M. Pepperberg and Alex, an African Grey parrot who proved scientists and accepted wisdom wrong by demonstrating an astonishing ability to communicate and understand complex ideas. This book is much more than the story of an incredible scientific breakthrough. It’s a poignant love story and an affectionate remembrance of Pepperberg’s irascible, unforgettable, and always surprising best friend.

John James Audubon by Richard RhodesJohn James Audubon: The Making of an American by Richard Rhodes

Rhodes shows us young Audubon arriving in New York from France in 1803, his illegitimacy a painful secret, speaking no English but already drawing and observing birds. We see him falling in love, marrying the well-born English girl next door, crossing the Appalachians to frontier Kentucky to start a new life, fashioning himself into an American just as his adopted country was finding its identity. Here is Audubon exploring the wilderness of birds–pelicans wading the shallows of interior rivers, songbirds flocking, passenger pigeons darkening the skies–and teaching himself to revivify them in glorious life-size images. Now he finds his calling: to take his hundreds of watercolor drawings to England to be engraved in a great multi-volume work called The Birds of America. Within weeks of his arrival there in 1826, he achieves remarkable celebrity as “the American Woodsman.” He publishes his major work as well as five volumes of bird biographies enhanced by his authentic descriptions of pioneer American life. Here is a revelation of Audubon as the major American artist he is. And here he emerges for the first time in his full humanity–handsome, charming, volatile, ambitious, loving, canny, immensely energetic. Richard Rhodes has given us an indispensable portrait of a true American icon.

The Thing with Feathers book coverThe Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal about Being Human by Noah Strycker

Birds are highly intelligent animals, yet their intelligence is dramatically different from our own and has been little understood. As scientists come to understand more about the secrets of bird life, they are unlocking fascinating insights into memory, game theory, and the nature of intelligence itself. Noah Strycker is a birder and naturalist who has traveled the world in pursuit of his flighty subjects. Drawing deep from personal experience, cutting-edge science, and colorful history, he spins captivating stories about the birds in our midst and reveals the startlingly intimate coexistence of birds and humans. With humor, style, and grace, he shows how our view of the world is often, and remarkably, through the experience of birds.

And a Great Guide for Birdwatching:

The Sibley Guide to Birds book coverThe Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley

The publication of The Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000 quickly established David Allen Sibley as the author and illustrator of the nation’s supreme and most comprehensive guide to birds. Used by millions of birders from novices to the most expert, The Sibley Guide became the standard by which natural history guides are measured. The highly anticipated second edition builds on this foundation of excellence, offering massively expanded and updated information, new paintings, new and rare species, and a new, elegant design.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *