Bird Books of a Feather

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There is something like one bird book published every day in the U.S. Look in your local bookstore and you’ll find a plethora of titles. I gave a quick perusal of and found 432 books on hummingbirds alone – there were more, I just got tired of scrolling down the page. To the left is my latest book you can get at a bookstore or on the web – gets good ratings.

There are a variety of books about birds – field guides (e.g. Birds of the West Indies), natural history (The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live), entertaining (Amazing Birds – by me), art (The Art of Ornithology), scientific (The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong), major treatises (Handbook of Birds of the World, 16 Volumes), and a lot of minor and local publications. I’ve read or at least consulted many many bird-related books over the years and can tell you that the quality of the writing and information varies widely, ranging from outstanding to what were the publishers thinking? Soaring With Fidel, about Osprey migration, gets some good reviews but I found it pretty darn boring.

In 2000 author Scott Weidensaul came out with Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere With Migratory Birds. It is a fascinating book definitely worth reading. Well researched and well written, it was a treat for me as a professional ornithologist to read but it is certainly accessible to anyone else. In 2008, he published Of A Feather, the history of birdwatching. Let me quote a review from

“Arriving in the New World, Europeans were awestruck by a continent awash with birds. Today tens of millions of Americans birders have made a once eccentric hobby into something so mainstream it’s (almost) cool. Scott Weidensaul traces the colorful evolution of American birding: from the frontier ornithologists who collected eggs between border skirmishes to the society matrons who organized the first effective conservation movement; from the luminaries with checkered pasts, such as convicted blackmailer Alexander Wilson and the endlessly self-mythologizing John James Audubon, to the awkward schoolteacher Roger Tory Peterson, whose A Field Guide to the Birds prompted the explosive growth of modern birding. Spirited and compulsively readable, Of a Feather celebrates the passions and achievements of birders throughout American history.”

I’ve written seven books on birds and a textbook on ecology, so I know what work is necessary by the author, artist, and publisher to put out a good product. It’s too easy nowadays to publish a book with a computer and online publishing. Mainstream publishers make money by producing, marketing, and selling books. But there are a lot of “vanity” publishers who make money by editing, publishing, and printing a book but charging the author for it. Many of them need some serious editing and fact-checking.

I have to admit that my and my wife’s Birds of Bidwell Park is vanity press. There simply is no way that a publisher would make money on such a narrowly focused book. So we funded it ourselves, not expecting to do anything but break even, but we had fun in the process and have produced something of value to the community we live in.

Read on!


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