Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Bird books

New National Geo reference book -- excellent

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 9, 2014 - 12:04 PM

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, Second Edition, edited by Jonathan Alderfer. Hard-cover, 744 pages, illustrated with paintings and photographs, index, list for additional reading, $35. Available on Oct. 7.


If there is one book I would consider essential for the library of any birder, this is it. If you have only one book besides your field guide, let it be this one.


As you might guess from the page count, this is not a book to be used in the field. This is the book on your desk, for reference before or after the trip or sighting. 


It has very good identification information, both detailed text and helpful illustrations. It gives you information on similar species, voice, status and distribution (well mapped), migration and wintering, and population status. This is done for every species reliably identified before November 2013, the publication cutoff date. Over 1,000 species are covered.


This book replaces and improves upon the 2005 edition. Text for that edition was written 24 by the field ornithologists. This new edition contains additional text by additional authors, including 12 new avian family accounts and more than 60 new species accounts.


The species accounts introduce each family section, i.e. Ducks, Geese, and Swans; Sandpipers, Phalaropes, and Allies; Shrikes; Wood-Warblers; and so on. One might be tempted by skip these introductions, but shouldn’t. The overview of family structure, plumage, behavior, distribution, taxonomy, and conservation does a fine job of putting individual birds in perspective. Identification will be easier with this information in hand.


When asides are called for, when extra information would be helpful on separating species, for instance, clear, brief illustrated text gives the reader a leg up.


You might recognize some of the artwork. Most of it comes from the 2011 (6th) edition of the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.”


I have collected shelves of books I always hope will answer any birding question I have. This book does not do everything those books do — there are limits to size, after all. But this book will be the place I begin my search for whatever. It is complete, complete and well-done.

Woodpeckers of North America

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 28, 2014 - 10:32 AM

Woodpeckers of North America: a  naturalist’s handbook, David Benson and Paul Bannick, Stone Ridge Press,Wrenshall, MN, 90 pages, photos, range maps, soft cover, $12.95.


How a book presents its content to readers can be as important as the content itself. In this case, the content is excellent, the photos are excellent, and so is the design. Content is pleasingly broken into short-takes of text offering a brief but complete discussion of everything important to knowing and identifying North America’s woodpeckers.


Design is by Mark (Sparky) Stensaas.  He and Benson are from Duluth. Bannick, the photographer, lives in Seattle. Benson writes clearly and cleanly. Bannick is an accomplished photographer.


And Stensaas has an eye for design as sharp as the content. Design is simple and clear. Text includes asides that explore different facets of a bird’s life or history. These are attractively denoted with color. I moved through the book with a sense of anticipation. 


The range maps, drawn by Matt Kania, are worthy of comment. I’ve never seen maps like this before in any birding guide. The illustration shows the complete western hemisphere of the world with breeding, winter, and year-round ranges shown in color. The maps put the birds in an overall context other range maps miss. This is a very good idea, something other book designers should copy.


List No. 2

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 23, 2014 - 9:54 AM

Rare Birds of North America, Steve N. G. Howell, Ian Lewington, Will Russell
Eggs and Nests, Rosamond Purcell, Linnea S. Hall, Rene´Corado
The Warbler Guide, Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle
Birds in Flight, the Art and Science of How Birds Fly, Carrol L. Henderson
Avian Architecture, Peter Goodfellow
The Unfeathered Bird, Katrina van Grouw
A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota, Kim R. Eckert (out of print)
A Guide to Birdwatching, Joseph Hickey (out of print)
Alex and Me, Irene M. Pepperberg
Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife, Christopher W. Leahy
The Shorebird Guide, Michael O’Brien, Richard Crossley, Kevin Karlson
Crows and Ravens, John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell
Anything written by Alexander Skutch
Birds and People, Mark Cocker (buy this one first; an amazing book)
Feathers, the Evolution of a Natural Miracle, Thor Hanson
The Bird Watching Answer Book, Everything You Need to Know ….. Laura Erickson
Handbook of Bird Biology, Cornell Lab of Ornithology (an education)
Woodpeckers of North America, David Benson, Paul Bannick
Owls of the North, David Benson (both books by Benson are extremely well done)

National Geo guide, new edition

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 4, 2014 - 10:57 AM

A revised and updated National Geographic Complete Birds of North America will be published in October. This will be the second edition of this popular field guide. It will contain information on more than 1,000 bird species, all the regulars for North America plus a variety of exotic species established or regularly seen. The book has been edited by Jonathan Alderfer. Price will be $40.

A book on the history of feeding birds

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 28, 2014 - 9:33 AM

Carrol Henderson has a new book close to publication. Henderson is superintendent of non-game wildlife for the Minnesota Department of Conservation. He also is one of Minnesota's most prolific authors of books about birds, often supporting his text with excellent photographs.


The new book is entitled “Feeding Wild Birds in America.” It's a history of the pastime that involves so many of us. The book will be published next spring by Texas A & M University Press.


Henderson’s co-authors are Paul J. Baicich, Maryland writer and avitourism consultant, and Margaret A. Barker, former coordinator of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, and author of a book on bird feeding.


The book was originally conceived and commissioned by the Wild Bird Centers of America to be a short narrative describing this curiously widespread pastime. 


The authors discovered that bird feeding is much more a part of our culture than anyone guessed. Thus, a book.


The story begins in the late 19th century. It moves decade-by-decade through historical context, discussing into traditions, innovations, and business concerns. The authors write that this simple practice has been a social cause, a trendy curiosity, an agricultural obligation, a serious hobby, a billion-dollar industry, a basis for scientific study, and, as most of us know it, pure entertainment. 



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