Staff Picks

For the Birds

About a month ago, I saw an exotic looking bird in my neighborhood.

It was a big, gangly thing with a long beak and a bright orange patch, two feather plumes sticking out of its head and HUGE feet.

I was sure I had spotted an escapee from the zoo.

Or some kind of mutant peacock. 

But when I looked it up in one of the library’s bird identification books, I discovered it was a double-crested cormorant, a river dwelling bird that’s actually common in our area.

double-crested cormorant

A double-crested cormorant, which is a bird native to the Midwest and not a mutant peacock.

I’ve always found birds interesting in an abstract sort of way, but after my recent cormorant spotting – and increasing sightings of falcons, hawks, and even a brown eagle perched on a traffic light – I think it might be fun to join the particular tribe of people known as birdwatchers, or birders, as they are commonly called.

There are an estimated forty-eight million Americans who self-identify as birders; how many there are worldwide is anyone’s guess.

Becoming a birder puts you in good company.

Chance the Rapper, former First lady of the United States Laura Bush, Steve Martin, Mick Jagger, Daryl Hannah, Fidel Castro, Paul McCartney and Game of Thrones actor Sean Bean are just a few among the list of famous birders; a list almost as diverse as birds themselves.

There are hard-core birders that travel around the world, even competitive birders that try to identify as many birds as they can in one year.

For those of us without the time or resources to travel the world trying to spot new birds, we can simply step outside.

A surprising number of species live in urban areas, neighboring parks, forest preserves, and even our own back yards.

young woman with binoculars

A young birder outfitted with a good sun hat and binoculars, or “binocs” in birder parlance.

In many ways, birding is one of the easiest and least expensive hobbies to pursue.

Birding gets you outside into the fresh air, and can do it year round. It’s a great way to take a break from staring into the ever-present screens that have taken over our lives.

Birding is also a great social activity to take up with friends and family.

And if you are a more solitary type, birding is a pursuit easily done alone.

As hobbies go, the equipment is minimal: a decent pair of binoculars and a bird-identification book is really all you need to get started.

A strong indication of how popular birding has become is the sheer amount and variety of high quality, entertaining books about birds and birding published every year.

Here’ a list of some of my favorite new birding books that are sure to get you into birding, too:

The Delightful Horror of Family Birding

The Delightful Horror of Family Birding: Sharing Nature With the Next Generation


In this collection of pithy essays, Eli Knapp takes his family from a leaky dugout canoe in Tanzania to a New York swamp, seeking out native birds and exploring life's deepest questions all along the way.

Odd Birds

Odd Birds


Ian Harding, a star of the TV series Pretty Little Liars, is an actor, internet influencer AND an avid birdwatcher! In Odd Birds, he writes about his life as a celebrity, and how his passion for birding and nature keeps his life grounded and fun.

Warblers and Woodpeckers

Warblers & Woodpeckers: a Father-Son Big Year of Birding


From the killer bee-infested border region of southeast Arizona to the sultry islands of the Galapagos, Warblers & Woodpeckers recounts the quest of a father and his thirteen-year-old son to see as many birds as possible in a single year. Along the way, readers share the ups and downs of the relationship between a father and his teenage son.

How to Know the Birds

How to Know the Birds: the Art & Adventure of Birding


In this elegant book, naturalist Ted Floyd guides you through a year of becoming a better birder. Choosing 200 top species to teach key lessons, Floyd introduces a new, holistic approach to bird watching and shows how to use the tools of the 21st century to appreciate the natural world we inhabit together whether city, country or suburbs.

Mrs Moreau's Warbler

Mrs Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names


What's in a name? Pied wagtail, buff-bellied pipit, and many-colored rush tyrant are just a few of the interesting names we have given to the birds of our sea, land, and sky. Stephen Moss takes us on thoughtful and sometimes surprising tour through time, explaining the meanings and telling the stories of the names behind the birds.

The Ravenmaster

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London


Yeoman Warder, Beefeater and Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, writes in a beautiful and witty writing style of his life living with and caring for the magical, intelligent ravens that have been an integral part of London life for hundreds of years. 

Birding Without Borders

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World


Traveling to 41 countries with a backpack and binoculars, Noah K. Strycker became the first person to see more than half the world's 10,000 species of birds in one year. Even readers who wouldn't know a marvelous spatuletail from a southern ground hornbill will be awed by Strycker's achievement and appreciate the passion with which he pursues his interest.

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