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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.

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

Birds of Lincolnshire (cover)

Birds of Lincolnshire

Author: Colin Casey, John Clarkson, Phil Espin & Phil Hyde

Publisher: Lincolnshire Bird Club

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780953825721

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 240pp

Price: £44.99

The last comprehensive review of Lincolnshire’s birds was completed more than three decades ago, so this book will undoubtably serve as a timely and eagerly awaited update. Produced on behalf of Lincolnshire Bird Club, this book aims to document the status of every bird species that has occurred in the county and report on the changes concerning their population and distribution since the last publication. By this virtue it also serves to showcase Lincolnshire’s birdlife and habitats to... read more

David Norfolk

Birdpedia (cover)

Birdpedia: A Brief Compendium of Avian Lore

Author: Christopher W. Leahy

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780691209661

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 272pp

Price: £9.99

Birdpedia is an eclectic and entertaining read. It follows an A–Z format, taking the reader from ‘Abundance’ to ‘Zugenruhe’. Along the way, we learn about everything from ornithological pioneers and poetry, to bird evolution, physiology, taxonomy, behaviour, the many threats that have faced birds in the past and those they continue to face today.

The style is conversational, with a good dose of humour. Readers will find sections on ‘Air Conditioning (Do Birds Sweat?)’ and ‘... read more

Viola Ross-Smith

The Gull Next Door (cover)

The Gull Next Door: A Portrait of a Misunderstood Bird

Author: Marianne Taylor

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9780691208961

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 192pp

Price: £19.99

Early on in The Gull Next Door, author Marianne Taylor declares that she is “not a true, hardcore larophile”. Don’t be deceived though – she clearly knows her stuff about gulls, and her deep affection for these birds is apparent throughout this entertaining and expansive book. The Gull Next Door uses the author’s own experiences as jumping off points to cover everything from gull evolution and physiology to the biodiversity crisis. We begin in Hastings, with the author... read more

Viola Ross-Smith

Goshawk Summer (cover)

Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other

Author: James Aldred

Publisher: Elliot & Thompson, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781783966127

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 234pp

Price: £14.99

Award-winning documentary film-maker James Aldred spent the spring and summer of 2020 filming Goshawks in the New Forest, his childhood home. This book, presented in an extended diary form, catalogues the author’s time with the Goshawks and many of the Forest’s other inhabitants. The text is punchy, with short, sometimes staccato sentences and delivers a very personal take on these magnificent birds, and much else besides. The diary format means that the text jumps around a bit, presenting... read more

Mike Toms

Seabirds: The New Identification Guide (cover)

Seabirds: The New Identification Guide

Author: Peter Harrison, Martin Perrow & Hans Larsson

Publisher: Lynx Edicions, Barcelona

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9788416728411

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 600pp

Price: £74.99

For many, seabirds are a bit of a mystery in that they occupy a world that for most is largely inaccessible. However, during the last couple of decades pelagic tours, both daily and for longer periods, have grown in popularity and have brought some of the world’s seabirds within reach, so a new identification guide to this amazing group of birds couldn’t have come at a better time.

Much has changed since Peter Harrison’s Seabirds: An Identification Guide was published back... read more

Paul Stancliffe

Bird: Exploring the Winged World (cover)

Bird: Exploring the Winged World

Author: Phaidon Editors, Jen Lobo & Katrina van Grouw (Editors)

Publisher: Phaidon Press, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781838661403

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 352pp

Price: £39.95

This is the perfect coffee table book for when it’s so cold and wet that you’ve decided to postpone your birdwatching session: this rich visual survey of artworks will cure your ‘fomo’ on birds and museums.

From cave drawings to Egyptian sculptures to 17th-century Dutch paintings to the Twitter logo, this book encompasses a great overview in time which emphasizes the longevity of human admiration for birds, represented here in a wide range of techniques including fine art,... read more

Anna Dupont-Crabtree

The Birds of Wales (cover)

The Birds of Wales/Adar Cymru

Author: Rhion Pritchard, Julian Hughes, Ian M. Spence, Bob Haycock, Anne Brenchley

Publisher: Liverpool University Press

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781800859722

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 600pp

Price: £45.00

This impressive tome from the Welsh Ornithological Society is the third full avifauna for Wales, following 1994’s original Birds in Wales (Lovegrove, Williams & Williams) and a subsequent update volume, Birds in Wales 1992-2000 (Green). The new volume is the first to include data from the 21st century, during which rapid changes in the population status and distributions of many species have occurred, making it a particularly valuable addition to the ornithological... read more

Callum Macgregor

Beak, Tooth & Claw: Living with Predators in Britain (cover)

Beak, Tooth & Claw: Living with Predators in Britain

Author: Mary Colwell

Publisher: William Collins, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780008354763

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 312pp

Price: £16.99

If you firmly believe that no fox should ever be shot or equally firmly believe that foxes should always be controlled then you may think that this is not a book for you. This is a book full of nuance. Mary Colwell explores predation by talking to people who are actively involved in land management and conservation. She encourages the reader to learn from people trying to face complex conservation challenges which don’t have simple solutions.

Beak, Tooth & Claw starts... read more

Graham Appleton

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