Classic Books

The history of ornithology can be traced through a series of excellent books about birds dating from Aristotle to the present. You can view a timeline of many of those books here, and the chronological list below provides a brief summary and links to those books available either free to read or download online or for purchase via Amazon.

We welcome your suggestions for additions to this list.


Costantinopoli,_aristotele,_historia_animalium_e_altri_scritti,_xii_sec.,_pluteo_87,4Aristotle (350 BCE) History of Animals. <online> [Original in Greek; this edition was translated by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson.]

Aldrovandi U (1599) Ornithologiae hoc est de avibus historiae. Apud Franciscum de Franciscis Senensem, Bologna.

17th century

Jonston J (1650) Historia Naturalis. De Avibus Libri VI. Matthaeus Merianus, Frankfurt.

Ray J (1676) Ornithologiae libri tres: in quibus aves omnes hactenus cognitae in methodum naturis suis convenientem redactae accuratè descripbuntur, descriptiones iconibus. John Martyn, London.

Ray J (1678) The Ornithology of Francis Willughby. John Martyn, London. <online>


18th century

White G (1789) The natural history & antiquities of Selborne in the County of Southampton. MacMillan and Co., London. <online>

19th century

American Ornithologists’ Union (1886) The code of nomenclature and check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists’ Union, New York.

Darwin C (1839) Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by the H.M.S. Beagle etc. Henry Colburn, London.

Darwin C (1859) On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. John Murray, London.

Darwin CR (1871) The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. John Murray, London.

Newton A (1896) A dictionary of birds. A & C Black, London.


20th century

American Ornithologists’ Union (1957) Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C.

Bent AC (1919) Life histories of North American birds. U S National Museum Bulletins

Davies NB (1992) Dunnock behaviour and social evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J, Christie DA (1992) Handbook of the birds of the world, volumes 1-16. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Haffer J (1997) ‘‘We must lead the way on new paths.’’ The work and correspondence of Hartert, Stresemann and Ernst Mayr–international ornithologists. Jochen Hölzinger, Ludwigsburg.


Lack D (1947) Darwin’s Finches. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lack D (1966) Population studies of birds. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1-341

Lack D (1968) Ecological adaptations for breeding in birds. Chapman and Hall, London.

Lack DL (1954) The natural regulation of animal numbers. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Mayr E (1942) Systematics and the Origin of Species, from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist. Columbia University Press, New York.

Mayr E (1963) Animal species and evolution. Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA.

Orians GH (1980) Some adaptations of marsh-nesting blackbirds. Princeton Monographs in Population Biology

Peters JLAO (1931) Check-list of Birds of the World. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Ridgway R (1901) The Birds of North and Middle America. U. S. National Museum,

Robbins CS, Bruun B (1966) Birds of North America. Golden Press, New York.

Sibley CG (1970) A comparative study of the egg-white proteins of passerine birds. Peabody Museum of Natural History Bulletin 32:1-131

Sibley CG, Ahlquist JE (1972) A comparative study of the egg-white proteins of non-passerine birds. Peabody Museum of Natural History Bulletin 39:1-276

Sibley CG, Ahlquist JE (1990) Phylogeny and classification of birds: a study in molecular evolution. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Sibley CG, MonroeJr BL (1990) Distribution and taxonomy of the birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Sibley DA (2000) The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.

Snow DW (1976) The web of adaptation: bird studies in the American tropics. Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Company,

Stresemann E (1951) Die Entwicklung der Ornitholoogie. Von Aristoteles bis zur Gegenwart. Peters, Berlin.

Stresemann E (1975) Ornithology from Aristotle to the present. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. [an English translation of Stresemann (1951) with a Forward and Epilogue by Ernst Mayr]

Stresemann E (1927) Aves. In: Kukenthal, Krumbach’s (eds) Aves. Zool,

Tinbergen N (1951) The study of instinct. (ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford,

Tinbergen N (1953) The herring gull’s world: a study of the social behaviour of birds. Collins, London.

Wynne-Edwards VC (1962) Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.


21st century

Birds of North America online

Heinrich B (2008) The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology. Harper Perennial,

Heinrich B (2014) Ravens in winter. Simon and Schuster,


IMAGES from top down: Aristotle text, Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.