March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Take Wing | Books About Birds for Budding Naturalists


Exploring the avian world is as simple as gazing out a window. This selection of informational books and stories will help children learn about the basic characteristics of birds, begin to differentiate between species, and appreciate the amazing diversity of the creatures that inhabit our world. Share them with students to introduce classroom units, prepare for bird-watching activities and nature walks, support research projects, and inspire budding naturalists.

Meet the Flock

Ludwig-Every-Day-Birds-CVAmy Ludwig VanDerwater’s rhyming text and Dylan Metrano’s lovely illustrations introduce an eye-grabbing array of Every Day Birds (Orchard/Scholastic, 2016; K-Gr 2). Highlighting 20 common North American species, each full-page treatment includes a boldly lettered name, concise descriptive phrase, and engagingly lifelike cut-paper image. “Chickadee wears a wee black cap./Jay is loud and bold./Nuthatch perches upside-down./Finch is clothed in gold.” Children will be excited to spot familiar faces, as “Crow rests on a wire,” “Robin puffs his chest,” or “Goose flies in a V.” Pointing out notable physical or behavioral traits, the vivid verses provide launch points for further investigations of each bird’s day-to-day life (start with the appended section, arranged A-to-Z by species, which expands upon these tidbits by providing a few more related facts). The simplicity and elegance of the presentation encourages youngsters to think about how various types of birds are similar and different, begin to identify and differentiate among broad family groups, and consider the diverse environments in which assorted species make their home. Head outdoors with this excellent and empowering beginner’s field guide and encourage children to recognize and discuss the birds we see every day.

noisy birdJohn Himmelman’s Noisy Bird Sing-Along (Dawn Publications, 2015; K-Gr 2) focuses on the cacophony of sounds made by 12 common species, providing another identification aid along with a whole lot of boisterous fun. Each spread features a glossy, color-drenched image of a bird spotlighted in its natural habitat and exuberantly making noise (sound effects appear in playfully arranged lettering and invite listeners to chime right in). The text gently encourages children to differentiate between different types of calls: a robin’s song sounds like a sentence, as it “…starts the morning with a cheerful wish. Cheery up? Cheerio!;” a barred owl “…seems to ask a question. Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you allll?;” and a black-capped chickadee says its name (“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee”). Some birds can be recognized by sounds rather than songs—“hummingbird wings hum in a blur of motion! hmmm…” and a downy woodpecker “taps away on a hollow branch. tap tap tap tap tap.” An additional fact appears on each spread, with a few more details appended along with an idea-packed list of “Birdy Things to Do” (feeding, listing, watching, etc.) and excellent online resources for educators.

some birdsThough the winged wonders that adorn the pages of Matt Spink’s Some Birds (Abrams Appleseed, 2016; K-Gr 2) are a bit more abstract, this dynamic picture book encourages youngsters to look closely at, contrast, and discuss the behaviors and physical characteristics of a variety of creatures. Imaginatively rendered with thick black outlines and geometric color-chip patterns, these birds convey avian essence along with lots of endearing personality. Both illustrations and simple comparative language help kids zoom in on various features: “Some birds are big,/some birds are small/and some birds are just incredibly tall.” Kids will appreciate the visual array of colorful feathers and fluid shapes, and may be able to pinpoint some of the species—a white-headed eagle depicted in mélange of blue shades “soar[s] high” above mountain peaks; two bright-hued butternut-squash shaped penguins cheerfully “waddle;” a red and gray woodpecker makes “holes with a rat-a-tat-tat!” Children will also applaud the book’s ending, as the lone caged bird included is set free and gleefully soars to the sky to join its compatriots.

my book of birdsIn Geraldo Valério’s My Book of Birds (Groundwood, 2016; K-Gr 4), stunning cut-paper collages portray an awe-inspiring variety of North American species in their natural habitats. Carefully layered and filled with rich textures, the stylized images artfully depict each bird’s physical traits—body size and shape, forms and distribution of feathers, method of movement—along with a spirited sense of liveliness and freedom. Each entry includes common and scientific name and a brief paragraph that blends facts with endearingly anecdotal observations (purple martins are “fond of nesting in houses where they can live next door to their friends!”). Some birds are showcased on eye-catching double spreads (an American white pelican glides across the water’s surface, a powerful osprey rises from a blue lake with a fish clutched tightly in its talons, a snowy owl poses on the Arctic tundra), while others are presented in groupings that emphasize similar traits (a spread on warblers includes five different types and pages about the common raven and American crow are shown side-by-side). Close-ups of the species’ eggs and feathers appear on the endpapers, completing this handsome and engaging avian album, just right for browsing and supporting research projects.

Raptors and Rescues

skydiverCelia Godkin’s Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World (Pajama Pr., 2015; K-Gr 2) recounts efforts to revivify a species once threatened by extinction. The book grabs its audience by describing a pair of peregrine falcons returning to their nesting site in springtime to mate. Lush, dramatic paintings depict the aerial action as the male shows off his hunting skills by flying high, plummeting toward the ground, and then sweeping upward “in an exuberant loop-de-loop.” Unfortunately, the pair will raise only one chick this season: their first clutch of eggs is carefully collected from their cliff-side nest by scientists, and only one egg in their second clutch survives to hatch (the other two, made thin by the effects of DDT, break early on). The author clearly introduces this harmful pesticide, how it was accumulated via the food chain, efforts to ban it, and the important work of experts and volunteers to save this magnificent bird—as illustrated by the fate of those fragile eggs. Placed in an incubator, all four hatch into downy chicks. One is kept at the sanctuary to breed with a captive male, and the rest are eventually released back into the wild and closely monitored (after one is eaten by great horned owl, the others are moved to a city skyscraper ledge where they thrive). Though the peregrine falcon was removed from the U.S. list of threatened and endangered species in 1999, this back-from-the-brink success story will captivate and inspire readers, and serve as a cautionary tale about how our actions impact the environment.

maggieCombining crisp photographs with simple text, Christie Gove-Berg tells the true story of Maggie the One-Eyed Peregrine Falcon (Adventure Publications, 2016; K-Gr 2). Living with her parents in a nest box atop a Richmond, VA, skyscraper, the fledgling is just beginning to perfect her flying skills when a strong wind causes her to collide with a building. After tumbling to the sidewalk, she’s taken to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Clear photographs illustrate how doctors assess her condition and care for her; there are no broken bones (kids even get a look at her x-ray) and her fractured beak will grow back, but an injury to the eye requires that it be surgically removed. No longer able to hunt and feed herself in the wild, Maggie is trained to work as an education bird that will help to teach children and their parents about peregrine falcons and to “respect nature and, more importantly, to protect it.” The story is told from Maggie’s point of view, inspiring empathy, but resulting in the text containing some anthropomorphizing (“She dreams of catching her own food.”). Still, the compelling story and riveting photos provide an engaging overview of bird rescue and rehabilitation and the important role performed by wildlife hospitals. A Q&A section about peregrines in general and Maggie and her family is appended.

everything birdsYoungsters interested in finding out more about peregrines and their ilk will enjoy diving into Blake Hoena’s Everything Birds of Prey (National Geographic, 2015; Gr 1-5). Pages crammed with spectacular full-color photographs and clearly presented information offer a quick glimpse at what makes raptors unique among birds, various species, physical characteristics, way of life, and conservation issues. Throughout, ecologist Hillary S. Young describes her field work in “Explorer’s Corner” insets. Quizzes and a handsomely laid-out spread comparing raptors with humans (e.g., a golden eagle can fly five times as fast as a human can run) add to the book’s engaging format. An interactive glossary provides definitions, lists pages where the term is referenced, and includes multiple-choice questions. Filled with striking photos of birds of prey in action, this visually attractive resource is a strong choice for browsers and report writers.

ArmChair Nature Walks

on bird hillTold from the perspective of a boy out for a walk with his dog, Jane Yolen’s picture book expressively captures a luminous moment of discovery in the natural world. Lilting, first-person verses describes a youngster’s stroll On Bird Hill (Cornell Lab, 2016; K-Gr 2), where “Though it was day, the moon shone still.” Bob Marstall’s fanciful illustrations depict a seaside landscape with rolling green hills, trees with curling corn-tassel-style tops, and abundant wildlife. The visual and narrative focus slowly zooms in as the narrator sees “a tree,/As light and bright as it could be,” then a trunk, a twig, a nest, a bird, and an egg nestled beneath. With a determined “crick, crick, crack,” a chick breaks through the shell—a moment vividly depicted by a wordless spread showing the babe close-up—and then fluffs his wings and stretches his legs. The point of view shifts, as the chick surveys his glorious surroundings, taking in “the eggshell, hen, and nest…the twig, limb, trunk, and tree,/And then he saw the moon…/And me” (with a jaunty wave, the boy continues on his way). The spell-spinning text and dreamlike illustrations—showing a cut-away of tree roots or a nighttime star-strewn nightscape within the egg—leave space for the imagination and underscore the surprising wonder found in everyday moments.

on the wingTake your students on an imaginary nature walk by sharing On the Wing (Candlewick, 2014; K-Gr 4), David Elliott and Becca Stadtlander’s exquisite collection of poems. Each brief entry provides an eloquent snapshot of a particular species, realistically rendered and splendidly depicted in its natural habitat. Ruby-throated hummingbirds dart across a verdant backdrop while the poem’s stop-and-go rhythm and jagged textual arrangement echo their faced-paced motion (“Backward!/Forward!…Always/in a/tizzy!/Got/no/time/to/sit/or/sing!/Too/busy!/Busy!/Busy!”). On another spread, a splendid image of a particolored macaw perched on a branch against an emerald-leaf background is paired with a simply worded selection (“Who/spilled/the/paint?”). Thoughtful wordplay, a regal tone, and a majestic mountain vista combine to describe a bald eagle, who has never “heard/of bird of prey/though he circles like a prayer/on the rising columns/of the shining,/sun-warmed air.” Children can site samples of particular bird attributes highlighted in the poems and pictures and do research to investigate them further, or pick a favorite species and pen and illustrate their own avian odes.

Find Out More

DK BirdsPerfect for older students or for sharing tidbits aloud in the classroom, Everything You Need to Know about Birds (Smithsonian/DK, 2016; Gr 2-6) provides an overview of all things avian. Spreads packed with high-quality photos, charts and diagrams, attractive graphics, and brief paragraphs telegraph information with a light and engaging tone. The book’s visual design presents concepts in a manner that is both elucidating and creative. For example, a section about how birds’ bills are specialized to suit their diets pairs the beaks of various species with a particular tool (e.g., shorebirds use their long, narrow bills like chopsticks to probe for buried food, or a parrot’s short strong bill works like a nutcracker). Other chapters focus on the fascinating behavior of particular species (the Arctic tern’s amazingly lengthy yearly migration or the leaf-and-twig dwelling constructed and decorated by the male satin bowerbird during courtship). Students can consult this inviting resource to learn more about bird basics such as evolution, flight, physical traits, diet, and habitat. They can also use the index to locate facts about some of the species featured in the works cited above.

Looking for digital field guides to birds? There are many to choose from including The Warbler Guide, The Collins Guide, and National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America. All include audios of bird vocalizations.

Curriculum Connections

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.



  1. Thanks, Joy!! Bird nerd here, so I’m looking forward to the titles you’ve listed here which I haven’t yet read, especially Skydiver!

    I’m an author, and I have a book coming out in summer 2018 called Hawks Rising, which will be illustrated by Brian Floca, and published by Roaring Brook Press and another from Putnam which was recently acquired called Whooo-Ku: A Great Horned Owl Haiku Story :)

  2. These are wonderful titles about birds. For anyone lucky enough to live amongst ravens, I want to recommend my middle grade nonfiction book, “The Un-Common Raven: one smart bird.” Available on

    Diane Phelps Budden