Desert Island Books in an opportunity for bird-loving bookworms to share their favourite titles with the wider ornithological community. See bottom of the page of how you can share yours.

With our second contribution to Desert Island Books appearing in the run up to the Christmas holidays, we’ve allowed this month’s contributor to indulge us with her favourite wildlife books (not just birds) in order to provide a broader range of titles for you to consider buying for a a loved on this Christmas.

The Genius of Birds

Jennifer Ackerman (Corsair, 2016)

Ackerman outlines research into avian intelligence in an extremely accessible way and provides examples from her own experiences with various species in different countries. From crafty crows to sociable sparrows – this book proves (if proof were needed) that ‘bird brain’ shouldn’t be used as an insult.


Tim Dee (Little Toller Books, 2018)

An eclectic history of our relationship with gulls and how our throwaway culture has affected them, even changing members of once migratory species into sedentary scavengers. We congratulate ourselves on reducing our food waste – but Dee asks how will this affect the gulls, reliant as they are. Food for thought, indeed.

A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth

Samantha Weinberg (Fourth Estate Ltd., 1999)

South Africa, Christmas, 1938: museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer realises that the dead fish in a trawl net is something unusual – and so begins an enthralling international search to find a living coelacanth, fossil fish from the deep. Just a shame that they invariably die when brought to the surface.

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World

Carl Safina (Picador, 2011)

The sub-title says it all: Safina charts the losses he sees over a year at his East Coast shore home and on his many international travels. He argues for a “circle of compassion” to replace our broken systems. History, politics, economics, ecology – this book has them all.

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea

Donovan Hohn (Union Books, 2011)

Before plastic pollution entered the public’s consciousness, Hohn was driven to find out what became of the titular toys, lost overboard in 1992. The interest became an obsession: he met beachcombers and oceanographers, and travelled widely, even visiting Chinese toy factories. His dogged research opened my eyes to our plastics problem.

The Art of Mindful Birdwatching: Reflections on Freedom and Being

Claire Thompson (Leaping Hare Press, 2017)

A beautifully presented book encouraging us to slow down and actually see and enjoy the birds we’re observing. Part introduction to mindfulness, part celebration of birds and their different habitats. Find your sit spot, open up your awareness and “cultivate an attitude of belonging”. Great advice for researchers – and allotmenteers.

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

Mark Obmascik (Transworld, 2004)

The complete antithesis to mindful birdwatching, this book charts the astonishing lengths some birders will go to in order to ‘tick’ the most species in a year. The narrative focuses on three very driven men. The birds are really secondary, but the book provides an eye-opening account of competitive birding.

Prodigal Summer

Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber, 2000)

Kingsolver displays a deep knowledge of nature in the US – birds, moths, trees, coyotes, etc. – and writes compellingly about people/nature, sex/desire, life/death, predators/prey, making connections and finding your way ‘home’. A moving and thought-provoking novel. “Everything alive is connected to every other thing by fine, invisible threads.”

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; a short biography (max. 100 words) and 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.