The Best Books About Birds: 15 Must-Read Books for Bird Watchers

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Seeking the best books about birds is almost as challenging as hunting down those elusive bird species on a birdwatcher’s list. Many books have been written about birds over the years in a wide range of formats.

As a bird lover and a keen reader, I have books on my shelves ranging from simple reference books and field guides to more in-depth and fascinating insights into birds and bird behavior, to lyrical accounts of birdwatching and nature from around the globe.

From my own knowledge and through discussion and research, I have come up with a list of some of the books that birdwatchers and bird lovers should seek.

Best Bird Books for Birdwatching Beginners

The Sibley Guide to Birds – David Allen Sibley

This bird guide is highly recommended in the US. With in-depth information and beautiful illustrations, this is great for novices but still beloved by experienced birdwatchers and bird lovers. If you are looking for one book on North American birds to start your collection, this is a tried and tested favorite.

The book represents over 12 years of work from the well-known and well-respected naturalist and ornithologist. It provides details on 810 species of birds, with information about identification, life history, vocalizations, and geographic distribution. Several paintings of each species are included, and the work is critically acclaimed for its images of each bird in flight.

RSPB Handbook of British Birds

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is a highly respected charity in the UK. Their handbook of British birds is one of the best bird books for beginners who wish to identify and understand the most common bird species in the British Isles.

Now in its fifth edition, this is great for birdwatchers of all ages and experience levels. Still, it’s an excellent book for beginners who want an overview of 300 plus of the UK’s most seen species.

Alongside artworks depicting all common plumages, the detailed text describes each bird’s behavior, habitat, voice, breeding biology, longevity, seasonal movements, and other useful information. The guide also includes UK bird population trends and up-to-date distribution maps.

Best Books About Birds For Kids

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Birds – Catherine D. Hughs

This child-friendly volume catalogs many backyard birds of the United States as well as many other species from different habitats around the world. It has more than 100 colorful photos paired with their bird profiles and is great for learning together or for independent reading for children 4-8 years old.

RSPB First Book of Birds – Anita Ganeri & David Chandler

This simple and fun book (another from the RSPB) is a great starter book option for those who want to enthuse their kids about British birds. It has 35 birds to learn about, with full-page illustrations and facts about each. A spotter’s guide in the back will encourage kids to get out and about and learn more for themselves.

Look Up!: Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard – Annette LeBlanc Cate

Something a little different, this birdwatching book is a humorous introduction to the bird world crammed full of interesting information about backyard birds presented in a quirky and entertaining way.

The cartoon-like images show birds having conversations with one another, which reveal real insights in unusual and exciting ways. This book helps kids, and those of all ages, be more observant in how they look at birds and could be the perfect gift for a nature-loving child. 

Best Field Guides for Avid Birdwatchers

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region & Western Region

These field guides to the birds of North America produced by one of the most trusted names in this arena really are the cream of the crop. There are separate guides to the North American birds of the eastern and western regions, giving you everything you need to become a keen birdwatcher in either area, with detailed descriptions from this authority on birds. 

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

A well-respected field guide for those of all ages, levels, and abilities, this offering from National Geographic is another option for North American birdwatchers to consider. Following the very latest AOU (American Ornithologists’ Union) classification, it features every species officially recorded.

Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland – Mark Golley

A great field guide for British birdwatchers, this jargon-free, easy-to-read guide is arranged in taxonomic species order. It is ideal for the beginner and the more experienced birdwatcher.

It contains identification tips, habitat details, and calls for over 280 bird species. Included are all those bird species seen regularly in Britain and Ireland, as well as some of the less common migrants. It also has great illustrations by artist David Daly.

Best Books on Bird Behavior

best books about birds

A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds – Scott Weidensaul

This fantastic piece of nature writing from Pulitzer Prize finalist Scott Weidensaul draws on his extensive fieldwork and introduces the work of many other scientists, researchers, and bird lovers to shed new light on the global migratory patterns of birds. It allows us to dive deeply into this fascinating research field.

There has been an exciting increase in our knowledge of the movement of birds over recent years, and if you read one book about bird migration to begin understanding this remarkable field, this should be it.

The Genius of Birds – Jennifer Ackerman

Ackerman expertly guides readers through amazing discoveries of the remarkable forms of intelligence that various bird species have been shown to display.

Detailing amazing elements of bird behavior and cutting-edge findings about bird brains, this is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about these fiercely intelligent creatures.

Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird – Tim Birkenhead

Professor Tim Birkenhead knows the science of bird senses inside and out and has provided an overview that will fascinate readers as well as inform them.

Tracing the history of how our knowledge about birds has grown, this book tells captivating stories about how birds interact with one another and their environment. By reading this book, we can learn more about birds and begin to imagine ourselves in their feathers.

The Life of Birds – David Attenborough

This classic on birds and bird behavior comes from one of the best-known and best-loved naturalists of our time. This brilliant introduction to bird behaviors around the world accompanied a popular series of films for the BBC and has gone through many editions.

Best Nature Writing For and By Bird Lovers

Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald

Winner of the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation, this wonderful book sets out a compelling manifesto for restoring Britain’s wildlife, rewilding its species, and restoring rural livelihoods. Keen bird watchers will know how many birds and other species are under threat in our changing world, and this is one of the best books to read about how we can address the problems we face.

What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World – Jon Young

Deep bird language is an ancient discipline perfected by Native peoples worldwide. Finally, science is catching up. This groundbreaking book unites indigenous knowledge, the latest research, and the author’s own experience of four decades in the field to give us a fascinating insight into what we can learn by listening to the birds around us.

Crow Country – Mark Cocker

There are, of course, many personal tales of bird watching from around the world. This delightful, lyrical book for bird-lovers is from Mark Cocker, a birding enthusiast who makes a case for a new look at the commonplace and often overlooked birds.

His passion for birds shines through as he follows corvids around England, writing in the very best tradition of pastoral nature writing, and making us look at crows in a new way. Personally, this is one of my favorite books.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.