Book Reviews

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Selected reviews of
Books on Indian Birds



This section reviews books connected with birds and birding in and around India and only includes books we have access to. Most of the books reviewed are easily available from the internet though some of them will only be with specialist re-sellers.

1. The Book of Indian Birds
~ Salim Ali
BNHS 2002, hardcover 326 pages, colour plates depicting 538 species.
ISBN: 0-19-566523-6

The perfect beginners book, the 2002 edition describes and illustrates 538 common species. Illustrations are by Carl D'silva. Additional text for the new edition has been taken from Dr Ali's field notes and edited by J C Daniel. While by no means a field guide or a reference book, the strength of this book lies in the descriptive text which gives meaning to birds and bird watching in India

2. Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan: Vol 1-10
~ Salim Ali & S. Dillon Ripley
OUP India hardcover 3121 pages, illustrated.
ISBN: 0195655060

This ten-volume series is the definitive work in this area and includes information on taxonomic treatment along with life history information, accounts of behaviour, ecology, distribution and migration records of birds of the Indian subcontinent. Intended for general readers as well as ornithologists, it is the main reference book available for Indian birds.
First published in 1968-1975.

3. Popular Handbook of Indian Birds
Hugh Whistler
Gurney And Jackson, 1928; 1963 fourth reprint, hardcover, colour plates

This book has lost nothing with the passage of time. Hugh Whistler knew his Indian birds well and is particularly happy in his descriptions of their habits. Strongly recommended for those who want to go beyond 'twitching'.



4. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent
~ R. Grimmett, C. Inskipp & T. Inskipp
OUP 1999 hardcover 888 p., 150 Colour plates, maps
ISBN 0-19-564907-9

A comprehensive identification guide to the 1,300 species found in India and the subcontinent. The book has a detailed identification section, descriptions of calls, habits, habitat, breeding, distribution and status. Also has distribution maps for all species. The illustrations are amongst the best available. Taxonomy and nomenclature follow "An annotated Checklist of the Birds of the Oriental Region" and the sequence is per Sibley - Monroe. Extremely bulky and not the most accurate reference book.

5. Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent
~ R. Grimmett, C. Inskipp & T. Inskipp
OUP New Delhi, 1999, softcover 384 p., Colour plates and maps

This is a field version of the "Birds of the Indian Subcontinent" and covers the bird species found in India and the subcontinent. 153 colour plates illustrate 1300 species. Some juvenile plumage and sub-species differences are illustrated. The accompanying text summarizes key identification features and indicates habitat. Vocalization is poorly described and the accompanying maps are hard to locate, and at times inaccurate.

6. A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent
~ Krys Kazmierczak & B. van Perlo
Yale University Press, 2000 hardcover: 352 p., colour plates & maps
ISBN: 0300079214

A compact Field Guide to 1,335 species with 96 color plates with filed identification, habitat, voice, range, and status information. Taxonomy and nomenclature follow "An annotated Checklist of the Birds of the Oriental Region" but the sequence follows the Peters-based systematic order. The distribution maps are a highlight, as are small touches like including alternative names in the index. Includes description of calls. All members of a family are included in a plate wherever possible, aiding identification.

7. Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide;
~ Pamela C. Rasmussen & John C Anderton
Smithsonian Institution & Lynx Edicions, 2005.Hardcover Vol 1& 2.
ISBN: 84-87334-67-9

Vol 1 is a Field Guide, while Vol 2 contains details of attributes and status. Covers over 1441 species from the subcontinent and adjoining areas. The Field Guide is 378 pages and contains accurate illustrations backed by scientific maps. Vol 2 (683 pages) contains vocalization and taxonomic details. The book proposes many new splits as full species. The text in Vol 1 is often too tiny to read and distribution information is record based rather than field based. Overall, a must have book for the serious birdwatcher.

8. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India
B. Grewal, B. Harvey & O. Pfister
Periplus 2002, softcover 512 pages, 800 species, 1000 images.
ISBN: 0-7946-0028-X

This photographic guide covers 800 species found in the Indian Subcontinent. Each species description is illustrated with one or more photographs. Introductory sections contain general information of use to visiting birders, such as the biogeography of the region covered, advice on timing of visits, and a brief gazetteer. An useful companion to the field guides.

9. A Field Guide to the Birds of South-east Asia
~ Craig Robson
New Holland 2000, softcover 504 pages, colour plates throughout.
ISBN: 1 84330 118 0

A comprehensive identification guide covering south-east Asia from Myanmar to Vietnam. 104 colour plates depict all species and most subspecies of the region. The text provides details on identification and covers voice, habitat, behavior, range, status, and breeding. Although the area covered is outside the Indian subcontinent many birds are common and this book is an useful reference in the eastern parts of the country.

10. Birds and Mammals of Ladakh
~ Otto Pfister

OUP, 2004, hardback. Colour photographs
ISBN 9780195657142 Rs. 795

Written by a Swiss national who lived in India for several years and undertook many study tours of Ladakh. It is a thorough documentation of the wealth of wildlife from the Ladakh region. This volume includes full descriptions and illustrations of 276 bird species, together with concise details of the 34 species, which have not been sighted after 1960. Bird-watchers, naturalists, scientists and researchers with an interest in Ladakh should find it an invaluable companion.

11. Birds of Western Ghats, Kokan and Malabar
~ Satish Pande, S Tambe, C Francis M & N Sant

OUP/BNHS, hardcover 370 pages 1700 photographs
ISBN-100195668782, Rs 995

The book covers birds of the Western Ghats - an ecological zone of global importance. This Endemic Bird Area is a vulnerable hotspot of bird biodiversity. Profusely illustrated with over 1700 images the book has some interesting touches. It includes notes relating the species to our heritage and culture and an index of scientific names, English, Marathi, and Sanskrit common names. Cluttered design and poor production qualities mar an otherwise excellent effort. Essential for those interested in the area.

12. Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent
~ Jan Willem den Besten
Mosaic Books, 2008, softcover 192 pages, Colour photographs throughout
ISBN 819027760X

Photographic guide by a Dutch, who lived in Dharamsala, Himachal for several years and wrote the regional guide to the Birds of Kangra. Over 700 species are described and illustrated. The birds are listed under groupings like Laughingthrushes, Buzzards and kites, which often make it difficult for a beginner to use. Erudite text and excellent production.

13. Birds of North India
~ Richard Grimett & Tim Inskipp
Helm, 2003, softcover 304 pages, Colour plates throughout
ISBN 0713651679

Based almost entirely on the highly acclaimed Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by the same authors, this convenient guide covers northern India and Pakistan. Each plate is accompanied by text highlighting identification, voice, habitat, altitudinal range, distribution and status. Now available in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi. Extremely useful in the field though the lack of maps is a handicap.

14. Birds of South India
~ Richard Grimett, Tim Inskipp
Richard Allen

Helm, 2005, softcover 240 pages, Colour plates throughout

Based on the highly acclaimed Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by the same authors, this regional guide covers central and south India (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Lakshadweep, including Pondicherry and the Maldives) Each plate is accompanied by text highlighting identification, voice, habitat, altitudinal range, distribution and status. Now available in Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, Kannada and Marathi. Excellent if you are using it in the area. No distribution maps.

15. A Photographic Guide to Birds of the Himalayas
~ Bikram Grewal & Otto Pfister

New Holland 2004, softcover pocket guide, 144 pages 260 images
ISBN: 1843308088

This convenient pocket guide cover 252 birds, both resident and migratory, occurring in the Himalaya. Well illustrated with identifiable images in most cases, the text is descriptive and fluid. Covers most species met by the casual birder in the western Himalaya.


16. A Photographic Guide to Birds of India and Nepal
~ Bikram Grewal
OM Book Service 2008, softcover pocket guide, 144 pages 255 images & maps
ISBN: 8187108347

Pocket-sized photo travelling guide to 252 species of birds found in Indian and Nepal. Features individual accounts and a single color photo for each species covered. Most common birds encountered in the sub-continent are covered though the accompanying maps need updating. Arranged according to Dillon Ripley's 'A Synopsis of the Birds of India and Pakistan', a system no longer widely followed.

17. Atlas of the Birds of Delhi and Haryana
~ Bill Harvey, N Devasar & B Grewal
Rupa & Co. 2006, softcover, 352 pages, colour illustrations and maps.
ISBN-10: 8129109549, Rs. 795

The Atlas covers distribution and seasonality of 266 species from the adjoining areas of Delhi and Haryana. Beautifully illustrated by two images of the bird, the text focuses on habitats and behaviour rather than the usual descriptive information found in field guides. Short accounts cover a further 252 species which are either scarce or very local in the two states. The introductory chapters include some regional rural folktales involving birds.

18. About Indian Birds
~ Salim Ali, Laeeq Futehally

Photographs by Nikhil Devasar
Wisdom Tree, 2008, hardcover 122 pages, Colour photographs
ISBN-9788183280853 Price Rs495

Revamp of book first published in 1967, with new names and colour photographs. Lively text covers a few limited birds and is strictly for the beginner.


19. Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent
~ Rishad Naoroji

Om Books/Helm 2006 hardcover 692 pages Colour plates & photographs
ISBN 9788187107699

Remarkable book written by the expert on the subject. Each of the 69 species of raptors found in India has been covered in great detail. The comprehensive text covers all aspects of identification, behaviour and distribution. A landmark publication and last word on the subject. Excellent


20. Birds of Goa: a Reference Book
~ Heinz Lainer

Other India Bookshop, hardback, 224 Pages B/W illustrations
ISBN-10: 8185569614

More of a documentation of the Birds of Goa than an identification guide. Solidly researched, it deals with the habitat, population, distribution, migration, breeding status and other aspects of the 420 bird species recorded in Goa. For those who want more details on the Birds of Goa than what is available in guidebooks.

21. A Birdwatchers' Guide to India
~ Krys Kazmierczak and Raj Singh

OM Books, 1998, softcover, 334 pages, line drawings & maps
ISBN-10: 1871104084

Outdated but still indispensable guide to over 90 sites and areas, for birds as well as other wildlife. Contains a checklist of Indian birds and mammals. Details of how to reach, available accommodation and help in planning your trip, along with key species that can be possibly seen makes it extremely useful. There is an urgent need for a new edition.

22. Birds of India: A Literary Companion
~ A J Urfi
OUP, 2008, hardcover

ISBN 9780195689457, Rs. 650

An excellent selection on writings on birds sourced from several, ancient, medieval and modern writings. Writers include Edward H Aitken (EHA), Allen O Hume, Douglas Dewar, Sálim Ali, S Theodore Baskaran, R.S. Dharmakumarsinhji, Edward P Gee, Peter Jackson & Zai Whitaker. Abul Kalam Azad, William Dalrymple, Rudyard Kipling, Jawaharlal Nehru, Khushwant Singh, and Mark Twain add an new dimension to this delectable anthology. A must for anyone interested in birds.

23. Important Bird Areas in India Priority sites for conservation
~ Asad Rahmani & Zafar Islam
BNHS/IBCN/Birdlife 2004, hardcover 1334 pages. Maps & photos
9780195673333, Rs 3,000

The result of five years' exhaustive work by the BNHS. It is the most detailed publication ever produced on the subject of birds or conservation in India. The study has given a detailed analysis of sites that have been identified for bird conservation in India. Each bird area is introduced with maps, analysis, avifauna section and a brief description of threatened birds, which have important habitats in the relevant states. Truly monumental work.

24. Birds in Our Lives
~ Ashish Kothari

Orient Longman 2007, softcover 308 pages. Colour photographs
ISBN 9788173715860, Rs 595

Interesting accounts by an author who has been involved with conservation in India. Subjects covered include, birds in Indian culture, Ornithology through Indian history, the wonder of migration, birds in Indian economy, Indian birds in danger. Excellently produced, It will be of great interest to students of Indian ornithology.

25. A Bird’s Eye View Vols. I & II
~ Tara Gandhi
Permanent Black 2007, hardcover pages 905
ISBN 978-81-7824-170-8 Rs 1495

Excellent compilation of Salim Ali’s writing by his former student. This body of Sálim Ali’s work has never before been gathered together into a book. His scientific papers, shorter writings, public lectures, interviews and radio broadcasts have been painstaking edited and selected by the editor. This commendable effort will of interest to all lovers of Dr Salim Ali’s work.

Sumit K Sen 2001 - 2009    I   
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