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Originally published December 8, 2014 at 5:03 AM | Page modified December 15, 2014 at 5:32 PM

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8 books to put under a bird-lover’s tree

From Seattle Times books editor Mary Ann Gwinn: Here are some beautiful and informative new books for the bird lover on your list, tomes that examine and catalog birds in all their beauty and complexity.


Seattle Times book editor

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Sometimes I think birds offer people a lot more than we deserve. We’re inspired by their soaring flight, their musical calls, and the extravagant colors of their plumage, even as we chew up bird habitat through development and unleash our house cats on baby birds.

And yet, birds survive — they migrate from pole to pole, they thrive in temperatures that would bring humans to their knees. When I see a bird, I see a survivor. Here are some beautiful and informative new books for the bird lover on your list, tomes that examine and catalog birds in all their beauty and complexity.

Bird guides

“The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition” by David Allen Sibley (Knopf, $40). In the perpetual debate over whether birds are identified through photos or illustrations, I am in illustrator Sibley’s corner. His precise renderings of birds in different flight positions work better for myopics like me than photographs of the birds (let the brickbats begin).

This new edition features illustrations expanded by 15 to 20 percent, plus expanded text, 600 new paintings, and 700 updated maps, according to the publisher. For a compact pocket guide, try “The Stokes Essential Pocket Guide to the Birds of North America” by Donald and Lillian Stokes (Little, Brown, $15). Photos of 250 birds, plus lots of information in a compact package.

“Rare Birds of North America” by Steve N.G. Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell(Princeton University Press, $35). I couldn’t spot a rare bird in a flock of sparrows, but this book is the next best thing, a fascinating compendium of rare, sometimes called “vagrant,” bird species in North America. How do they become vagrants? They’re blown off course from their migration routes; they stow away on ships, they are “cast upon the continent like Dorothy by hurricane winds.” (The publisher said that; how I wish I had.) From the Bahamas swallow to the Narcissus flycatcher to the Red-flanked Bluetail, this book will delight the dedicated birder whose heart’s desire is to see something no one else has. The illustrations by Ian Lewington are outstanding.

“Hummingbirds: A Life-size Guide to Every Species” by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor and Sheri Williamson(Harper Design, $29.99).Who doesn’t love hummingbirds? Maybe the only visitor at your feeder is the locally abundant Anna’s hummingbird, but this guide features the world’s hummingbirds, all photographed and reproduced in life size.

Other bird books

“Birds & People” by Mark Crocker, photographs by David Tipling(Jonathan Cape, $65). Crocker, a British bird expert, spent 10 years on this comprehensive volume, a survey of the relationship between birds and people since the ancestors of each group first regarded one another. Birds in mythology, birds in art and literature, and birds’ current precarious relationship with their most influential neighbors (that would be us). This handsome and richly illustrated volume will keep the passionate bird lover on your list busy for the next decade.

“J. Fenwick Lansdowne”(Pomegranate, $65). A book devoted to the work of Lansdowne, a renowned Canadian bird artist who died in 2008. The paintings are beautifully composed and so lifelike you feel like you can reach out and touch the feathers. Seattle wildlife artist Tony Angell contributes a chapter on his friendship with Landsowne, who lived in Victoria, B.C.

“The Passenger Pigeon” by Errol Fuller (Princeton University Press, $29.95). A beautiful book about a sad subject — the passenger pigeon, whose numbers were once so numerous they blackened the sky, but went extinct in 1914. This book follows its fortunes through its years of abundance to the final days of Martha, the last of her kind, using illustrations, photos specimens, ornithological journals and even poetry. A fitting memorial to a beautiful bird.

“Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers and Other Wildlife” by John Marzluff, illustrations by Jack DeLap (Yale University Press,$30). A convincing mix of science, observation and optimism by Marzluff, a world renowned ornithologist at the University of Washington. The message: birds can thrive, especially in the suburbs. The illustrations by DeLap, one of Marzluff’s doctoral candidates, should launch the career of this talented wildlife artist.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com. Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW’s “Well Read,” discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to www.tvw.org/shows/well-read for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma



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