Favorite Kids’ Books: Birds

On this page, you’ll find a growing list of children’s books that I’ve paired with some of my photos, videos, and blog posts. These are books I think will grab kids’ interest, maybe fill in some informational blanks, and—I hope—ignite a lifetime of curiosity about our natural world.

(If you wish to buy a book, consider Bookshop.org, where profit from online book purchases is distributed among independent bookstores.)

I love Jump, Little Wood Ducks by Marion Dane Bauer, with photographs by Stan Tekiela. Nestling ducks resist their mother’s call to jump from their nest high in a tree: “Nope!” says duckling number one. “No way, no how!” says the second duckling. The last duckling just whispers, “Uh-uh.” Eventually, the mama duck makes her case, reassuring the ducklings that they will be safe and tempting them with water-borne treats she knows they would like to eat. The story is quirky but built on facts. It’s also just plain fun to read. The photos are stunning. This book for ages 4 to 8 is a perfect introduction to the beautiful wood duck. It can also be a terrific conversation starter about facing fears.

I have several blog posts featuring wood ducks. Here’s one called Watching Wood Ducks. It includes several fun videos of these handsome birds. The male usually gets the most attention, but I think the female is striking, too.

How Starling Got His Speckles is a beautiful picture book that weaves starling facts into a story about the power of sticking together. Readers learn about murmuration—giant gatherings that starlings are famous for—and about the bird’s range, songs, and speckles! The text is fun to read and the illustrations are simply gorgeous. Written by Keely Parrack and illustrated by Antonio Boffa.

I caught one very animated starling on video. It was singing and skawking on my favorite snag, the subject of a fun blog post.

A European Starling perches on a snag.

By Caroline Arnold, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne, this beautiful book explains the biology of bird flight in wonderfully approachable detail. From feathers to flapping, it explains both the anatomy and the movements that enable birds to get and stay aloft. Perfect for kids aged 6-9 or thereabouts, this book will satisfy both kids’ and adults’ curiosity about how birds manage to fly. I learned quite a bit from the book, and I’ll bet you will, too!

I recommended this book in a blog post about a particularly beautiful bird, the mute swan.

A male and female Mute Swan float in shallow water next to a muddy shoreline.

Here’s a link to that post.

If you’d like to spark a child’s love of birds, here’s a wonderful book: Night Owl Night by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga. The story follows a young girl who goes to work one night with her ornithologist mom. It’s a suspenseful and fascinating tale that shows how and why scientists (carefully!) capture and study owls. With beautiful illustrations and a compelling story, this is one terrific book.

I’ve not succeeded in getting any good owl photos or videos. But I remember exactly which bird sparked my own love of birds. In 2015, I filmed an entire Pileated Woodpecker nesting cycle using an iPhone held against the eyepiece of a spotting scope. I had no idea at the time that my technique was called ‘digiscoping’ — I just knew I had to film what I was watching, so I grabbed my phone and our spotting scope to see what I could do. Here’s a frame from one of the videos, taken when the male was excavating to make a nest.

You can see the wood chips he spits as he works. You can also see the huge vignette created by my amateur digiscoping. I’m a little better at taking videos these days!

Written and illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate, this book is spot-on for kids 8-12. Many pages have the feel of a graphic novel, filled with fun—and sometimes snarky—bird commentary about how to be a bird watcher. The information is rock-solid, explaining bird biology and habitat, and how to use observation techniques like listening and sketching to learn birding skills. At 80 pages, with well-developed topic sections and an index, it’s perfect for perusing as opposed to reading straight through. Adults will enjoy and learn from it, too!

Speaking of listening as a birdwatching skill, here’s a link to my blog post about the song of the Wood Thrush.

A Wood Thrush stands on one leg on a tree branch.

The post includes close-up video clips of a male singing his heart out. If you watch his throat movements, you get a hint of how he forms his haunting notes.

The Nest that Wren Built, by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter, is the perfect book to have at hand when kids notice or talk about birds. Using lovely, lyrical text, the author follows wren parents as step-by-step, they build a nest and raise nestlings. The text uses a ‘house that Jack built’ rhyme and rhythm scheme. It’s fun to read and the detail, in both the text and the gorgeous art, is exceptional. Kids will want to read this book over and over. I highly recommend it.

I included this book as a recommendation in this blog post about a Wood Thrush nest I watched and filmed for about a month. Here’s a fun video from that post, showing how the nestlings developed from naked little hatchlings to fully feathered fledglings in just days. There’s more in the post–even some intrigue, after one nefarious visitor to the nest.

I hope you’ll share some of my videos, like this one, and read some of my recommended books when your littles begin to notice birds.

With lyrical, rhyming text and beautiful illustrations, this lovely book shows the many ways that birds build nests. It explores construction methods, materials, and locations, some seemingly improbable—like a nest made of spit. This book will encourage kids to learn more about nesting birds. It would be a terrific book to read during nesting season, especially if a child has the good fortune to see a nest.

Here’s one mama bird that built a nest of twigs, mud, and leaves. How fortunate I was to watch and film her at work. You can see a bit of her building approach in the book recommendation just prior to this one. Here she is a few days later, brooding four nestlings in that nest. Be sure to turn on your audio so you can hear what catches Mama’s ear.

This beautiful book will invite the youngest birders to listen outdoors for calls and songs. Written by Rita Gray with Kenard Pak’s gorgeous art, the rhyming story is spare and lyrical. Additional text renders each featured bird’s song or call. The art is stunning. All in, this is a lovely book that’s educational too, suited for kids as young as three or so. It would be great fun to follow a reading with recorded songs played from one of the free bird ID apps, such as Audubon’s or the Merlin app from the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

One of the book’s featured birds is the Wood Thrush. I was lucky enough to film a nesting pair. Here’s mama building the nest while dad sings his heart out. Be sure to turn up the volume–his flute-like song is hauntingly beautiful.

This is a great book for the youngest bird watcher. Each featured bird is introduced using short sentences that explain where, how, or what material the bird uses to build its nest. The birds are a mix of familiar backyard species and others a child is less likely to see. The illustrations are beautiful and highly effective at showing the birds’ nesting habits.

I sometimes see one of this book’s featured birds, the Brown-headed Cowbird. This bird is a brood parasite–it lays its eggs in other birds’ nests. Almost unbelievably, most often the ‘host’ parents raise the hatchling cowbird as their own. Here’s a clip of one female cowbird where I usually see them–peering through my window! It happens each spring, and I always wonder what the bird thinks she’s seeing.

Every page of Snow Birds is filled with music. Bird calls and songs are beautifully rendered in onomatopoeia. The author writes rich, vivid text, in a variety of rhyme meters and schemes, to explain how seventeen birds adapt to winter’s harsh weather. The illustrations are simply gorgeous. This is a terrific book to help kids discover not only birds but also the magic of musical language.

One bird in this book brightened one of those won’t-winter-just-end days. You know, when the calendar says it’s spring but nope. The snow keeps coming! I heard ‘fee-bee! fee-bee!’ and sure enough, it was a black-capped chickadee. This brave little bird lives in Michigan year-round. Read its account in Snow Birds and you’ll get a sense of how it fluffs and puffs to stay warm in winter.

This little book—perfectly sized for pockets—is a huge, kid-friendly intro to ornithology, as its title promises. It has text, illustrations, and photos about bird evolution, biology, habitat, and conservation. It’s also a field guide to more than 100 birds, with each entry featuring a photo and key bird facts. And… it’s a hands-on project book—how to make your yard bird-friendly, keeping a bird journal, and more. Kids from about third grade will browse and read this book on their own. Younger kids will enjoy it with some adult help. For a wonderful gift to spark a kids’ interest in birding, I’d pair this with some kid-friendly (but not toy) binoculars and a grown-up bird book specific to your state. My favorite bird books are by Stan Tekiela, who has published guides for 30 states. They’re organized by bird color, for quick and easy bird identification.

Here’s one bird featured in Zambello’s book, the Downy Woodpecker. Her chest is all puffed up. Maybe’s she proud to be featured in such a terrific kids’ book?

For kids, here’s an activity book suited for the youngest birders, written and illustrated by nature artist Sy Barlowe. The book is a kid-friendly birding journal—when a child sees an included bird, they affix the bird’s sticker to its fact page and write a few words about where and when the bird was sighted. Just a few facts are included for each bird, so additional tools are needed (binocs, an adult bird book) to ensure successful birding adventures.

I wrote a blog post about this Brown-headed Cowbird. She seemed to be surveilling my home, 42 days in a row. These brood parasites (the little sneaks lay their eggs in other birds’ nests) aren’t the most popular bird. So I was delighted to find the cowbird featured in Barlowe’s book.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird staring through my (very dirty!) window

This fantastic nonfiction book is geared for kids aged 10-14 years, grades 4-6, and yes, poop science turns out to be quite surprising! Montgomery explains how scientists are using feces to ferret out answers to serious puzzles and important research questions. The science is front-and-center, and so is the fun. Montgomery’s writing is kid-friendly: lively, loaded with puns, and often irreverent. She even includes a poop lexicon. ‘Grow your vocabulary with this list,’ Montgomery says, ‘but don’t forget to mind your manners.’ Young readers may be inspired to scout for scat, one of the discovery activities Montgomery suggests for inquisitive readers.

I wrote a blog post about a bird-poo encounter after robin parents seemed to be shirking their nest-sanitation doo-ties. I launched an investigation and began monitoring their daily feed-and-clean routine. The results surprised me, and in the end, I sure could empathize with the hard-working bird parents. Here’s part of that story:

Male robin catches fecal sac eliminated by a nestling
This dad is doing clean-up duty.

How to Find a Bird, by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. This beautiful picture book shows kids how to use both their eyes and ears to locate birds. We meet a variety of birds, both in their habitats and at backyard feeders. One of the best features is the book’s onomatopoetic renderings of many of the birds’ calls and songs. They’re as fun to read as they are informative. I love this book!

Here’s one of a zillion bird stories I see outside my window. This one’s a favorite and one of the best reasons I can think of to help kids learn to find and love birds. I could watch this gorgeous, flirty wood duck pair over and over.

This super-fun kids’ book is The Little Book of Woodland Bird Songs, by Andrea Pinnington and Caz Buckingham. The book has beautiful bird images and info, but the magic is in the buttons kids press to hear the birds’ songs! See and hear 12 North American birds. By the same authors, a second book features backyard birds and their songs. These books are great for toddlers on up. My granddaughter is two, and this is one of her favorites. Even babies would love these bird songs.

This White-breasted Nuthatch, seen here on one of our deck railings, is included in the book.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends, by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, with stunning illustrations (lots of birds!) by Clover Robin. The book is about Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which takes place every year near the end of December. The event began in 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman wanted to replace a traditional Christmas bird hunt when people would shoot as many birds as possible. I learned about Chapman in this terrific kids’ nonfiction picture book.

Here’s a Red-bellied Woodpecker in late December. I’m sure he’d want to be counted!

Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond, Illustrated (beautifully!) by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Here’s another terrific picture book about Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count. The protagonist is a girl who participates in the event. Readers follow her as she goes through town counting the birds she sees and hears. There is also information about migration, bird calls, and bird-spotting techniques. It’s a simple story, fun to read, and may inspire budding birders.

Here’s a Pileated Woodpecker, feathers all floofed on a chilly day. With that bright red crest, isn’t he the perfect bird for counting at Christmas?

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Publishers (for book covers), Carol Doeringer.