The BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year - 2019

British Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology announce the winner of the award for Best Bird Book of the Year. All books reviewed in BB, BTO News and on the BTO website during the year 2019 were eligible for consideration for this award.

A total of 54 books were reviewed by British Birds and/or BTO during the year and were eligible for judging, of which 31 made the initial shortlist and were available to look through on the day of judging. The judges noted that some much-talked-about publications from the year had not been submitted for review and thus were not eligible for judging, and we encourage publishers and authors to send both BB and BTO books for review. As usual, the judging panel – with three representatives from BTO and three representing BB – came together at the BTO annual conference at Swanwick in early December 2019 to cast their votes for their top five from the shortlist. It was a surprisingly level field with no immediate clear winner to emerge from the shortlist, and it was a challenge for the judges to select just five books to award their points to. In the end, it was a tight finish; just one point separated the winner from second place, and they themselves were only a few points clear of the rest of the pack.

Blue Vesper book cover

Winner: The Blue Vesper: ecology and conservation of the Red-footed Falcon by Edited by Péter Palatitz, Szabolcs Solt and Péter Fehérvári

MME BirdLife Hungary, 2018.

Reviewed in BB by Ian Carter (Brit. Birds 112: 415–416).

This year’s winning book appeared in five of the six judges’ top five, and the reasons for its selection were diverse. An extremely visually attractive publication, it was praised for its design and layout as much as for its contents. For those with an interest in Red-footed Falcons (“The Blue Vesper”), this book is a no-brainer, but the judges felt that the exceptional production value and engaging nature of the text, images, infographics and figures would appeal to a far wider audience than just those with a passion for raptors. The informal dialogue, comprehensive-yet-accessible maps and diagrams, and the beautiful photos printed on sumptuous paper all add to this book’s appeal. This book isn’t just a coffee-table book, though – it deals with everything from the species’ breeding biology and habitat use to its conservation, migration, and wintering (including results of satellite-tracking work). It is a fantastic example of an engaging monograph. Combine all of that with the fact that this book deals with one of Europe’s most attractive birds and it’s easy to see why this book caught the judges’ attention.

Oceanic birds of the world cover

2nd: Oceanic Birds of the World: a photo guide by Steve N. G. Howell and Kirk Zufelt

Princeton University Press, 2019.

Reviewed in BB by Chris Kehoe (Brit. Birds 112: 765–766).

Steve Howell must be one of current ornithology’s most prolific writers, and his latest publication maintains the very high standards we’ve come to expect. The photographs in this guide are second-to-none, and the text is authoritative and current without being overbearingly complex. Cryptic populations of (potential) splits are dealt with, and the identification criteria are clearly explained, but never are any of the species accounts bogged down by too much detail. All-in-all, the judges felt this was a book that would prove of huge value in the field (or should that be ‘at sea’) as well as an attractive publication to thumb through – and drool over – back on land.

Garden birds book cover

3rd: Garden Birds by Mike Toms

William Collins, 2019.

Reviewed in BB by Mike Everett (Brit. Birds 112: 688).

The ‘New Naturalist’ series continues to deliver quality publications, and Garden Birds was one of two from the series in the judges’ 2019 short list. Packed full of information from both the author’s own experience and from the BTO data archives, this New Naturalist truly offers novel and up-to-date information on birds that we assume we know so well. Plenty of graphs and figures help to convey the data and lift this NN above many of its contemporaries.

British Birds: A Pocket Guide (cover)

4th: British Birds: A Pocket Guide (WILDGuides) by Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop & David Tipling

Princeton University Press, Princeton (NJ) & Oxford, 2019.

Though perhaps not a classic contender for a top-five finish, being in essence a slimmed-down version of an already existing title, the judges still felt this book held considerable value for beginner birders and those who don’t necessarily want to deal with the trappings that come with some of the more detailed field guides on the market. The good-quality photos, clear comparisons between similar species and ‘quick-reference’ panels were all noted as particularly useful features of this book, and it appears that the photographic errors made in the original publication have now been rectified.

Gulls Simplified (cover)

5th: Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Approach to Identification by Pete Dunne & Kevin T Karlson

Princeton University Press, 2018.

While this book is most definitely aimed at the North American market, it holds considerable interest to British birders and, while this may be ‘another gull book on the shelf’, it offers a slightly different approach to many of the other publications on the subject. While the words ‘gulls’ and ‘simplified’ may not always sit comfortably together, this book nonetheless provides a good gateway into the world of North American larids.


The second tier

The following books all received votes from at least one of the judges and are mentioned below in alphabetical order of the first author.

A Sparrow’s Life as Sweet as Ours

By Carry Akroyd and John McEwen; Bloomsbury, 2019; reviewed for BTO by Daria Dadam.

Climate Change and British Wildlife

By Trevor Beebee; Bloomsbury, 2018; reviewed for BTO by Claire Boothby.

Birds of Italy 1: Anatidae–Alcidae

By Pierandrea Brichetti and Giancarlo Fracasso; Edizioni Belverdere, 2018; reviewed for BTO by Daria Dadam.


By John C. Coulson; William Collins, 2019; reviewed in BB by Martin Collinson (Brit. Birds 112: 414).

Crossbill Guide: Southern Portugal – from Lisbon to the Algarve

By Dirk Hillbers and Kees Woutersen; KNNV, 2018; reviewed in BB by Keith Betton (Brit. Birds 112: 55).

The Feather Thief

By Kirk Wallace Johnson; Windmill, 2019; reviewed in BB by Mike Everett (Brit. Birds 112: 413) and for BTO by the BTO’s staff/volunteer book group.

Steller’s Sea Eagle

By Vladimir Masterov, Michael Romanov and Richard Sale; Snowfinch Publishing, 2018; reviewed in BB by Ian Carter (Brit. Birds 112: 174) and for BTO by David Jarrett.

The Eagle Owl

By Vincenzo Penteriani and María del Mar Delgado; Poyser, 2019; reviewed in BB by Keith Betton (Brit. Birds 112: 693).

Ospreys: the revival of a global raptor

By Alan F. Poole; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019; reviewed in BB by Ian Carter (Brit. Birds 112: 690–691).


As always, we are grateful to the BTO for making facilities available for judging at Swanwick, and especially to Carole Showell for sourcing books from the Chris Mead Library at Thetford.

Stephen Menzie, Dawn Balmer, Tom Cadwallender, Sarah Harris, Ian Newton and Faye Vogely

c/o Fyrvägen 35, 239 40 Falsterbo, Sweden; email stephen.menzie [at]

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