The BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year

Every year, British Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology get together to review the best bird books to appear during the previous 12 months. All books reviewed in British Birds, in BTO News and on the BTO website are eligible for the award.

There are no formal judging criteria – instead, the judges are simply looking for books of special merit that will be appreciated widely by British Birds readers and BTO members. Details of the most recent winner can be found below.

The BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year 2019

A total of 54 books were reviewed by British Birds and/or BTO during the year and were eligible for judging. No fewer than 31 made the initial shortlist and were available to look through on the day the competition was judged (although note that some much-talked-about publications from 2019 had not been submitted for review and were thus ineligible for consideration). As usual, the judging panel – with three representatives from BTO and three from BB – came together at the BTO annual conference at Swanwick, in early December 2019, to cast their votes for their top five from the shortlist. It was a surprisingly level field with no immediate clear winner to emerge from the shortlist, and it was a challenge for the judges to select just five books to award their points to. In the end, it was a tight finish; just one point separated the winner from second place, and these two books were just a few points clear of the rest of the pack.

Winner The Blue Vesper: ecology and conservation of the Red-footed Falcon

Edited by Péter Palatitz, Szabolcs Solt and Péter Fehérvári; MME BirdLife Hungary, 2018; reviewed in BB by Ian Carter (Brit. Birds 112: 415–416).

This year’s winning book appeared in five of the six judges’ top five, and the reasons for its selection were diverse. Visually attractive, it was praised for its design and layout as well as for its contents, and as an engaging species monograph – a genre that can be, at times, rather dry. For those with an interest in Red-footed Falcons (‘The Blue Vesper’), this book is a no-brainer, but the judges also felt that the exceptional production value and engaging nature of the text, images, infographics and figures would appeal to a far wider audience than just those with a passion for raptors. The informal dialogue, comprehensive-yet-accessible maps and diagrams, and the beautiful photos printed on sumptuous paper all add to this book’s appeal. In addition, this publication provides a useful reference for those working in the conservation and science communications sectors, and aiming to engage a wide audience with research. The Blue Vesper spans the divide between browsable coffee-table book and essential reference – it deals with everything from the species’ breeding biology and habitat use to its conservation, migration, and wintering (including results of satellite-tracking work). Combine all of that with the fact that it deals with one of Europe’s most attractive birds and it’s easy to see why this book caught the judges’ attention.

2nd Oceanic Birds of the World: a photo guide

By Steve N. G. Howell and Kirk Zufelt; Princeton University Press, 2019; reviewed in BB by Chris Kehoe (Brit. Birds 112: 765–766).

Steve Howell must be one of current ornithology’s most prolific writers, and his latest publication maintains the high standards we’ve come to expect. The photographs in this guide are second to none, and the text is authoritative and current without being overbearingly complex. Cryptic populations of (potential) splits are dealt with, and the identification criteria are clearly explained, but never are any of the species accounts bogged down by too much detail. All in all, the judges felt this was a book that would prove to be of huge value in the field (or should that be ‘at sea’) as well as an attractive publication to thumb through – and drool over – back on land.

3rd Garden Birds

By Mike Toms; William Collins, 2019; reviewed in BB by Mike Everett (Brit. Birds 112: 688–689).

The ‘New Naturalist’ series continues to deliver quality publications, and Garden Birds was one of two from the series in the judges’ 2019 shortlist. Packed full of information from the author’s own experience, from the BTO data archives, and distilled from the 900 references, this book truly offers novel and up-to-date information on birds that we assume we know so well. Plenty of graphs and figures help to convey the data and lift this ‘New Naturalist’ above many of its contemporaries.

4th British Birds, a Pocket Guide

By Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop and David Tipling; Princeton University Press, 2019; reviewed for BTO by Scott Mayson.

Though perhaps not a classic contender for a top-five finish, being in essence a slimmed-down version of an already existing title, the judges still felt this book held considerable value for beginner birders and those who don’t necessarily want to deal with the trappings that come with some of the more detailed field guides on the market. The good-quality photos, clear comparisons between similar species and ‘quick-reference’ panels were all noted as particularly useful features of this book, and it appears that the photographic errors made in the original publication have now been rectified.

5th Gulls Simplified

By Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson; Princeton University Press, 2018; reviewed in BB by Dawn Balmer (Brit. Birds 113: 56–57) and for BTO by Sarah Harris.

Although it is clearly aimed at the North American market, this book holds considerable interest to British birders. It offers a slightly different approach from many others on the subject, with extended photo captions and photos of mixed gull flocks. While the words ‘gulls’ and ‘simplified’ may not always sit comfortably together, this book nonetheless provides a useful gateway into the world of North American larids.

Acknowledgments As always we are grateful to the BTO for making facilities available for judging at Swanwick, and especially to Carole Showell for sourcing books from the Chris Mead Library at Thetford.

Stephen Menzie, Dawn Balmer, Tom Cadwallender, Sarah Harris, Ian Newton and Faye Vogely c/o Fyrvägen 35, 239 40 Falsterbo, Sweden; e-mail: [email protected]