Which Indian bird book?

This is a question I am asked fairly frequently and I end up constantly digging up links and emailing participants, so here is it up permanently. The Amazon Affiliate program also helps BPW keep prices down!

It is also very annoying when a person with a 500mm lens and a professional body posts a pic of a bird on facebook with the tag line "ID please." Don't be a sloppy wildlife photographer, read and understand what you are photographing, at worst it will make you a better photographer!

My criteria for selecting a bird book are as follows:

    - ease of use

    - accuracy of illustrations

    - distribution maps

    - physical durability

The book I prefer is Krys Kazmierzak's A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent.

Here are the reasons I prefer this book over the numerous other - excellent - field guides to birds of the indian Subcontinent.

    - The front inner and out covers have a key which make it very easy to shortlist a species according to it's jizz, or physical shape and posture, which then lead you to the plates which illustrate the species 

    - The distribution maps are right next to the plates making it very easy to see if you are completely off track, for instance imagining a bird endemic to the Western Ghats in Rajasthan! 

    - The illustrations by Ber van Perlo are top class! 

    - The book is a hardcover and is durable (I purchased my copy in 2000 and it shows very little signs of wear).  

    - The book opens flat and is thus very easy to work with.

    - Last but not the least the name of the bird is followed by a few numbers. This refers to the number of the bird as it appears in the ultimate guide, the 10-volume Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan by Salim Ali and S Dillon Ripley, a must-consult for disambiguation regarding sub-species et cetera


So we use this page to start, for instance a hornbill-ish looking bird will lead us straight to plate 52, an Oriole-like bird will lead us to plate 56


Distribution maps flush with plates


The Ali-Ripley numbers which refer to the listing of the bird in the 10-volume Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan by Salim Ali and S Dillon Ripley


Use the link below to buy the book from Amazon.in Please note, clicking on 'Shop Now' will take you to your cart, clicking on the image of the book will take you to the book.

Another extremely popular book is Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Carol and Tim Innskipp and Richard Grimmett. I personally do not use this book a lot since it is a softback and I have seen copies which have broken apart. Most importantly, however, the distribution maps are not flush with the plates, which means a lot of to-ing-and-fro-ing to identify / eliminate a species. I find this tedious in a bird guide, but hasten to add that the fault lies with the publisher and not the authors!


Another beautiful book, and a must add to your collection of Indian bird books, is the Collins Field Guide to the Birds of India  written AND illustrated by Norman Arlott. This is a work of art and is a hardback. I have just acquired this book, a chance find at Nagpur airport, and am disappointed to note that the distribution maps appear at the end of the book.


I can almost hear readers whispering that there is the mention of the doyen of Indian birdwatchers, Salim Ali?  There is the seminal 10-volume Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan co-authored with American ornithologist S Dillon Ripley. Unfortunately this does not seem to be in print any longer. Various condensed versions - such as the one below - are available but generally marred by poor production values, poor species coverage, lack of distribution maps, and lack of illustrations / descriptions of sub-species

However, Salim Ali's autobiography The Fall of a Sparrow is a must-read. Delightfully written and a glimpse to what bird watching used to be like in the early days of the Twentieth century. Use the second link below to order this book.


I cannot complete this article without mentioning three other books. The first is the two-volume and scholarly Birds of South Asian: The Ripley Guide which has several subspecies and has sonograms of bird song / calls. This book too does not seem to be available.


A delightful book for the thinking birder and a must-add to your bird library, is Sathish Pande's Latin Names of Indian Birds - Explained which demystifies the often long and convoluted scientific names which may seem perplexing. 

(A software glitch has this book is listed at Rs 3600/- but is it actually about Rs 500/-)


To conclude with a recommendation for those who are fascinated by raptors, those tigers of the avian world; and who isn't? Raptors can be as frustrating to identify as those little brown jobs like larks and pipits. But one man's magnum opus throws light on this fascinating family of birds, Rishad Naoroji's Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent which is another must-have for the avid birder / bird photographer.


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