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Book Reviews

Browse the archive of BTO Book Reviews, which originally appear in each issue of BTO News - the BTO membership magazine. Join BTO today to get BTO News, and new book reviews, first.

Birds and Us (cover)

Birds and Us: A 12,000 Year History, from Cave Art to Conservation

Author: Tim Birkhead

Publisher: Viking Books, London

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9780241460498

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 473pp

Price: £24.99

The scope of Birds and Us is impressive, beginning 8,000 years ago with Neolithic cave art and ending on a 2018 undergraduate trip to Bempton Cliffs. As BTO Vice-president Prof Tim Birkhead takes us through the millennia in between, he weaves together art, religion and science with rich historical detail, mini-biographies and personal anecdotes. The book is written clearly and directly, and the result is a highly engaging journey which will appeal to anyone interested in the... read more

Miriam Lord

Galapagos Crusoes (cover)

Galapagos Crusoes: A Year Alone with the Birds

Author: Bryan Nelson and June Nelson

Publisher: Bradt Travel Guides, Chalfont St Peter

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9781784778859

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 264pp

Price: £11.99

Galapagos Crusoes: A Year Alone with the Birds is an update to Bryan Nelson’s original 1968 book Galapagos: Islands of Birds, with additional stories from June, his wife. The two of them spent a year on two islands in Galapagos – Tower and Hood (known as Genovesa and Española today) - studying seabirds. As such, the book is a great introduction to the different species found on the Islands with in-depth chapters on the various mammals, reptiles, insects and birds that the... read more

Clare Simm

Man and Bird in the Paleolithic of Western Europe (cover)

Man and Bird in the Palaeolithic of Western Europe

Author: Anne Eastham

Publisher: Archaeopress Publishing Ltd, Oxford

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781789699098

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 160pp

Price: £30.00

This book attempts to straddle the two disciplines of ornithology and archaeology, by fusing the author’s stated passion for birds with their obvious deep knowledge of early hunter-gatherer communities in Europe. With 134 pages of text out of 149 altogether, do not be fooled into thinking this will be a light or easy read; it is a dense academic piece.

The first chapters describe aspects of the ecology and diversity birds, and lives of the humans and Neanderthals that lived alongside... read more

Anthony Wetherhill

The Secret Perfume of Birds (cover)

The Secret Perfume of Birds: Uncovering the Science of Avian Scent

Author: Danielle J. Whittaker

Publisher: John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9781421443478

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 277pp

Price: £20.50

If you have ever visited a seabird colony, you will most likely have found that they are remarkable places for their ability to stimulate, or even assault, the senses. Visually, the sight of thousands of birds whirling in the air and thronging on the cliffs is always a treat, and the sounds that go with that can be a raucous, deafening orchestra. But often, the memory of seabird colonies that lingers is the smell. It’s a heady mix of guano, fish and death, but with a little something else... read more

Anthony Wetherhill

The Extraordinary World of Birds (cover)

The Extraordinary World of Birds

Author: David Lindo & Claire McElfatrick (illustrator)

Publisher: Dorling Kindersley, London

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9780241529058

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 80pp

Price: £14.99

An expertly written and beautifully illustrated book, that does as the title suggests - convince children that the bird world is in fact extraordinary.

Covering all aspects of birds’ lives, the author takes the reader on a journey of discovery, from teaching children about the ancestry of birds and their behaviours, to offering ways they can help protect them such as setting up feeders and making a bird-friendly garden.  

Furthermore, children will delight in the excitement... read more

Belinda Betts (BTO Youth Rep, Norfolk)

Europe's Birds (cover)

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide

Author: Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash & Hugh Harrop

Publisher: WILDGuides, Princeton

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780691177656

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 640pp

Price: £19.99

This newly published guide covers an impressive range of over 900 species and it is laid out in a very user-friendly way. It’s a hefty tome- it’s not a field guide but neither is it intended to be.

I’m often a little cautious of photographic field guides as it’s so dependent on the chosen photos. In this case the authors have collated a staggering 4,700 photographs to show various ages and plumages of birds and often showing exactly the features they outline in the accompanying text... read more

Steve Willis

How Birds Live Together (cover)

How Birds Live Together: Colonies and Communities in the Avian World

Author: Marianne Taylor

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9780691231907

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 224pp

Price: £25.00

How Birds Live Together offers an overarching view of the different and unexpected ways that birds nest and interact together. Many differing nesting habits are covered, from seabird cliff colonies to burrow nesters, to predator and prey nesting together and even non-social nesters, with discussions on the challenges, benefits, hazards, and social dynamics of each style of living, and features a wealth of species as examples.

The author, Marianne Taylor, has clearly done... read more

Gill Birtles

The Secret Life of Birds (cover)

The Secret Life of Birds

Author: Moira Butterfield & Vivian Mineker

Publisher: Happy Yak, London

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9780711266209

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 48pp

Price: £12.99

The Secret Life of Birds is a collection of delightful stories and engaging facts, which imparts a love of birds and of nature on the next generation, inspiring them to look after the world around them. Readers are invited to follow the book's guide, Speedy the Swift, as they fly through the pages, introducing us to their bird friends who teach the reader about such things as anatomy, the science of feathers and moulting, diet and migration. Interspersing the narrative are... read more

Gill Birtles

Feathers (cover)

Feathers: An Identification Guide to the Feathers of Western European Birds

Author: Cloé Fraigneau

Publisher: Helm, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781472971722

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 400pp

Price: £54.99

The pattern and colouration of feathers provide valuable and often memorable clues to bird identification. Taken in isolation, however, feathers can be surprisingly hard to identify, particularly for those who do not have experience of birds in the hand. If you have even the slightest inclination to identify the feathers that you come across, this reference guide is a revelation  – not to mention a thing of great beauty!

The book comprises eight chapters, including introductory... read more

Nick Moran

A Newsworthy Naturalist: The Life of William Yarrell (cover)

A Newsworthy Naturalist: the Life of William Yarrell

Author: Christine E. Jackson

Publisher: John Beaufoy Publishing, Oxford

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9781913679040

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 228pp

Price: £25.00

Yarrell’s is a name that you have probably come across, if only through its association with the British race of White Wagtail – which we know as Pied Wagtail or Motacilla alba yarrellii. He is, however, a somewhat distant figure now, whose significant contributions to the study of birds (and fish) have largely been forgotten. Yarrell’s A History of British Fishes and A History of British Birds, published in the 1830s and 1840s respectively, were the main reference... read more

Mike Toms

The Role of Birds in World War Two (cover)

The Role of Birds in World War Two: How Ornithology Helped to Win the War

Author: Nicholas Milton

Publisher: Pen & Sword History, Barnsley

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9781526794147

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 224pp

Price: £25.00

Stories such as War Horse have brought the history of animals in warfare into the public consciousness. Their significant contribution was formally recognised in 1943 through the creation of the PDSA Dickin Medal awarded for gallantry and devotion to duty, and the important role played by birds in World War Two is clear from the fact that pigeons are the most numerous recipients.

You would be forgiven for thinking this will be a book about messenger pigeons. Whilst... read more

Lesley Hindley

Short-eared Owls (cover)

Short-eared Owls

Author: Bryan Benn

Publisher: Self-published

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781838480004

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 432pp

Price: £35.00

This book is a remarkable achievement. It describes one man’s study of Short-eared Owls over 10 years across different parts of Britain. While the main strengths of the book are those personal observations supported by a collection of stunning photographs (again the work of one man), Bryan Benn has put these into context in a series of carefully thought out chapters. Subjects covered include appearance, habitats, behaviour (including breeding, hunting and social), movements, voice and... read more

John Calladine

The Wryneck (cover)

The Wryneck: Biology, Behaviour, Conservation and Symbolism of Jynx torquilla

Author: Gerard Gorman

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, Exeter

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9781784272883

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 202pp

Price: £24.99

The Wryneck is one of our weirdest birds and it is hard to believe it really is a woodpecker. Gerard Gorman is a global authority on woodpeckers and combines the extensive literature with his knowledge of this species in this beautifully written and produced monograph. It is a worthy addition to his six previous books on the Picidae and the latest in the excellent Pelagic Monographs series.

Wryneck occur extensively across Northern Europe and Asia. They have been lost as a breeding... read more

Linda Smith, Woodpecker Network

Vagrancy in Birds (cover)

Vagrancy in Birds

Author: Alexander Lees & James Gilroy

Publisher: Helm

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781472964786

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 400pp

Price: £39.99

Avian vagrancy is a phenomenon that has fascinated natural historians for centuries. From Victorian collectors willing to spend fortunes on a rare specimen, to today’s high-octane bird-chasing ‘twitchers’, the enigma of vagrancy has become a source of obsession for countless birders worldwide.

The ‘twitching’ scene in Britain is well established with reports of large numbers gathering at the site of a rare bird often being reported in the mainstream press. However, this practice isn’... read more

Paul Stancliffe

Naturalized Parrots of the World (cover)

Naturalized Parrots of the World

Author: Stephen Pruett-Jones (Ed.)

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780691204413

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 304pp

Price: £34.99

Parrots are among the most endangered birds globally, their populations threatened by habitat loss, trapping for the pet trade (both legal and illegal), and shooting, the latter predominantly centred on real or perceived threats to agriculture. Trapping for the pet trade has, ironically, both contributed to population declines within native ranges and seen parrots introduced to other geographical regions and habitats. Of the roughly 300 parrot species known to have been transported beyond... read more

Mike Toms

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