Like all scientific endeavours, the history of ornithology is documented in the published record—books, scientific papers, popular articles, and, most recently, the internet in the form of blogs, websites and digital archives. Since the first scientific journal began publishing in 1665, for example, more than 350,00 scientific papers have been written about birds.
You can access much of that rich literature on the web, though many journals are behind a paywall and require a subscription if you wish to access their current and past issues. Papers published in general ornithological journals like The Auk, The Condor, Wilson Bulletin, and the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club as well as many regional and taxon-specific journals are freely available online at SORA, the Searchable ORnithological Archives.
This timeline of great bird books provides an overview and place to start exploring the ornithological literature. Libraries also provide free access to hard copies of published works and we provide a listing of outstanding ornithological libraries at the link below and in the menu bar. While every public and university library will have a lot of books about birds, there are several magnificent collections of books about birds in North America and Europe that are described at the link below and in the menu bar.
On this page we also provide links (and in the menu bar) to books and articles about the history of ornithology as well as textbooks of ornithology that can provide a useful starting point for learning about the development of this 400-year old scientific discipline.
- Books about the history of ornithology: several trade books and monographs published since 1675 have traced all or parts of the history of ornithology. A first these were chapters in books with a wider scope but beginning in the late 20th century books began to be devoted entirely to this subject.
- Academic papers about the history of ornithology: the papers listed here document the research and publications of many ornithologists (see also People), controversies, ideas, and adventures in lab and field.
- Textbooks of ornithology: in addition to some coverage on the history of ornithology, these books provide an overview of knowledge about birds
- Ornithology Journals: this link will take you to a listing of 250 journals at the Ornithological Exchange
IMAGE: cover of ‘Bird Life’ by Frank Chapman; public domain