The Observer’s Book of British Birds

c.1954 edition

This will always be a reminder of why I started watching birds. Beautifully illustrated, though in an old fashioned way, it inspired me, as I guess it did others of my generation.

The Life of the Robin

David Lack (Penguin Books, 1953)

This was the book that taught me how much more there is to watching birds than just trying to see more and more species. A classic.

A Dictionary of Birds

Alfred Newton (A & C Black, 1879)

The first of my three ‘dictionary’ choices is the earliest of the three and by the BOU’s founder. My copy says “Cheap Issue, Unabridged”!

A New Dictionary of Birds

Ed. A Landsborough Thomson (Nelson, 1964)

The second of my three ‘dictionary’ choices.

A Dictionary of Birds

Eds. Bruce Campbell and Elizabeth Lack (T & AD Poyser, 1985)

My third ‘dictionary’ choice.

Hitherto I have only dipped into these three dictionaries. A prolonged sojourn would at least allow me to study how our understanding of different subjects has changed over the years. If ever rescued from my desert island, I would at least come back much better informed even if, alas,
not much wiser.

Cuckoo (Cheating by nature)

Nick Davies (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Stunningly meticulous fieldwork, elegant prose, and a great grasp of history combine to produce an extraordinary single species account of a charismatic brood-parasite, one of nature’s oddities.

Bird Sense

Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury, 2012)

The subtitle says it all: “What it’s like to be a bird”. Tim Birkhead takes us through all their senses and the history of our understanding of them. I wish this sort of knowledge had been available when I was studying Philosophy.


Katrina Cook (Quercus, 2007)

And now for something completely different! A stunning collection of bird art put together by Katrina Cook (now Katrina van Grouw), herself an extremely accomplished artist.
The three non-books I would wish to take with me to my desert island would be a lifetime supply of both red and white Rioja (thats two, so possibly cheating!); a decent coffee table just to support Katrina’s book; and a camera would be good while I am away from seeing the work of those photographers who make me want to throw my current camera away!


Tell us about your desert island books!

We’d love to hear about the books you’d take with you to your desert island. Format exactly as above. So send us your eight books (title, author(s), publisher, year; max. 50 words on each book; your three ‘other’ items (excluding your binoculars and people), a short biography (max. 100 words) and a head and shoulders photo of yourself. We’ll
source the cover images. Email your contributions to the
BOU Office. Contributions from BOU members will be
considered for our BOU member newsletter.