Want suggestions for what to read next, authored by a fellow girl birder? I’ve been wanting to do a post about my favorite books about birds and birding by female authors for a long time. A proper round up of titles showcasing a variety of topics and genres, from memoir to how-to to natural history, and enough of them to warrant a decent sized list for you.
My challenge has been finding them! Most birding books seem to be written by men. In fact, GrrlScientist lamented this fact with me in her comments section on Medium for her own 2018 round up of best books about birds and birding, where only one of the 12 books she features was authored by a woman (two were illustrated by women; one of them being the author/illustrator Jane Kim.)
My book round up here is, as suggested, the start of what I hope will be a helpful series to readers wanting to know more about wild birds, birding culture and women in the fields of bird conservation or ornithology. I’ve got a few caveats to share with you first as to how I choose what to include:
No books about domestic birds or contained/pet birds (this includes falconry, so you won’t see H is for Hawk here even though I love that book).
The book must be authored by a woman, as I’m determined to support female authors in this realm. There are too few!
The books are not presented in any particular order, and I try to list a variety of genres. However, no fiction.
I have the wonderful good fortune to know many of the authors of the books I show here, and since it’s impossible for me not to include their books, I will openly claim the conflict of interest if that is what it looks like. I like my friends’ books, so there!
What’s here is my opinion and any omissions are my responsibility. I welcome your corrections and suggestions!
The book links are affiliate (to IndieBound, not amazon), from which I will make a small amount if you purchase through that link. You’ll be supporting me, as well as the authors of these books. Thanks in advance for the consideration!
1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, By Sharon “Birdchick” Stiteler
Sharon Stiteler presents a tome of avian natural history and birding tips in this colorful, photo-filled and friendly book for both a US and UK audience (notice the English Robin on the cover?). Stiteler is American, and her easy, awe-shucks humor gives this book a funny, welcoming entre for beginner birders, dispelling any sense of intimidation to the practice.
In what I consider a genius move, she lists vacation suggestions at the end of each chapter (on topics ranging from backyard bird feeders to bird migration) for where to witness birds around the US, UK and world engaging in related behavior or habitat. For instance, she suggests the famous Venice, Florida Rookery in the “Baby Birds” chapter, and The Space Coast Birding Festival (also in Florida, coincidentally) for the chapter on birding gear. What better way to give birding context than to imagine yourself in the field?
Stiteler is a trail blazer for women in birding, especially in making birding mainstream and cool. She has long used humor and silliness to bring levity to birding, something I agree has been long needed. I appreciate the warmth and humor of the language in this instructive book, while also trusting Stiteler’s complete authority of her subject.
Jane Kim has made her name as a modern-day natural history muralist, most notably in her project for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which this book showcases. Kim is a gifted story teller as well as artist, and shares the origin of the project to the process of research to the exhaustive 17-month on-site painting of the mural itself.
What I found most compelling was her perspective as the artist on an unrelenting, physically and intellectually demanding job. Her optimism and curiosity never abated (from what I can tell!), in spite of being surrounded by bird experts at the lab who could pop in anytime to see and comment on progress.
The book is for the most part a visual feast of the bird images, punctuated by Kim’s commentary of the decisions behind each depiction. Each life-size rendering of the 270 birds she painted had to show more than perching. She evoked birds hunting, singing, flying and displaying, with the necessary “full body affair” of “energetic tension” that might be needed.
Julie Zickefoose has captured the human connection with nature niche to perfection with her books, and this one in particular is special because it is also the first time baby birds have been the singular subject of a book. Zickefoose gathered notes and drawings from years of observation of various species of birds (most of which are nesting residents of her rural property in Ohio), and the resulting book is this beautiful “coffee table” book which is every bit an art book as it is one you want to read through, in order to learn how she did it.
Zickefoose’s distinct “triple threat” talents (as her agent describes her) as a biologist, writer and artist, give her a mastery for knowing these birds, handling them correctly, and rendering their likeness and behavior in terms lay readers can understand. Her writing stands alone, but when paired with the imagery of helpless pink hatchlings, the fragility of these birds’ lives jumps from the page. Despite what I recognize as my own fear as a reader for the survival of her subjects Zickefoose’s tone is never grave. She is an optimist, and this book is the result of that hope and respect she holds close for her wild neighbors.
Now for the thriller in this selection!
For such a mild title, this book delivers stories that kept me turning the pages! Miyoko Chu knows what she is doing (she the Senior Director of Communications at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) as she shares stories of humans and birds in the history of migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere. From the obsessive tracking of a single bird across the Mississippi flyway to watching exhausted migrants land on Gulf Coast beaches, the tension in each chapter never abates.
If you have any doubt of the challenges facing migratory birds (and the people who follow them), Chu’s book presents a world of weather events, churning oceans and Great Lakes, bird tracking in small airplanes through thunder storms, satellite images checkered almost opaque from the masses of night-flying birds and even the rush of wing beats from passing flocks felt on the face by one scientist standing on an oil rig at night. Chu’s book reads like the thriller it is.
So that’s it for now! Check out my suggestion for another book by Laura Erickson at this recent post about how to live a bird-friendly lifestyle.
Coming up, I intend to review the following, once I finish them! Vulture by Katie Fallon; Mozart’s Starling, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt; The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman; Birds, Art, Life, by Kyo Maclear; and Rosalie Edge: Hawk of Mercy, by Dyana Z. Furmansky. Watch this space for more on these books.
And please leave your suggestions for other titles in the comments! As stated above, this post contains affiliate links, from which I may receive a small amount should you make a purchase, and I thank you in advance for the consideration!