A Birding-Books List

By Liz Merton


With fall migration in full swing, I thought we needed a birding-book list that combines “major” bird books and an independent-press work.


The Big Year by Mark Obmascik


Obmascik’s work gave birth to a 2011 movie starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, and provides a fun, fast read for birders and non-birders alike. It covers the true story of the 1998 birding year and three men’s race to see more birds than anyone else in North America for the year. For readers who like a little travel, a little human interest, and a little competition, The Big Year delivers, while packing birding up to appeal to a popular audience. Even if you’ve never peered through binoculars or pondered a pied flycatcher, you may still enjoy this romp across the continent in search of ibis and immortality.


Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman


Kingbird Highway by birding legend Kenn Kaufman tells the charming true story of Kaufman's teenaged self, who set out to see as many birds as possible throughout North America in 1973. Hitchhiking, eating cat food, and spending as little money as possible, he saw the world—and tells us about the journey in this authentic, simple narrative that has a nice human payoff at the end.


Birding Without Borders by Noah Strycker


Strycker's Birding Without Borders offers a bit of charm, a dash of human conflict, some insights about life, and a rollicking tale of global travel. Strycker spent 2015 trying to see as many birds around the world as he could, ending with a count of 6,042. While his prose doesn’t snap the way Obmascik’s does, or touch that human note Kaufman reaches, the book satisfies a global hunger to wander.


Lost Among the Birds by Neil Hayward


Lost Among the Birds chronicles Hayward’s efforts to find meaning and face depression through birding. Like the books above, it also features a race to see as many birds as possible (Hayward chalked up 749 species in North America in 2013). For anyone looking to “visit” Alaska or “put out to sea” in search of boobies, Hayward provides an easy armchair adventure, but while he tries to feature some introspection and human searching, he comes up just a little flat. He just feels a hair predictable. His story, however, involves a flurry of feathers and thus deserves a gander.  


Chasing Birds Across Texas by Mark T. Adams


Adams’s prose leaves the reader frustrated . . . it’s true. This book is dry. But it’s an independent-press publication (Texas A&M Press) that provides a good resource for anyone actually looking to bird in the Lone Star State. In 2000, Adams crisscrossed Texas in order to see 489 species. He covered almost 50,000 miles and encountered 92% of the birds that lived in or traveled through Texas that year. It helps showcase the wonder of “adventuring local” and finding wonder in the backyard—or at least in one’s own state.


And . . . .  


And of course: Kaufman’s Field Guide to Birds of North America. This one isn’t an entertainment read, but it chronicles the birds of the continent for those looking to identify fowl in the wild.

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