The art of ornithology

Jonathan Elphick

Birds: The Art of Ornithology is an outstanding selection of images from the famous archive of the Natural History Museum, including exquisitely crafted works from some of the most famous natural history artists ever published.

978 1 902 68639 4
October 2004
265 x 280 mm
336 pp
Colour throughout
Co&Bear/Scriptum Editions in association with the Natural History Museum


This historical survey tells the remarkable story of the development of bird art through the ages, from the early, skilfully executed and decorative but often fanciful, images of birds, through the ages of exploration and increasing knowledge of the world's avifauna, to modern approaches to capturing the essence of these freest of all creatures on the page or canvas.

The outstanding selection of images from the unrivalled collection of the Natural History Museum, some of them never reproduced before in a popular book, include exquisitely crafted works from some of the most famous natural history artists ever published. They are complemented by detailed, lively text, which interweaves ornithological science, art history, biography, travel and other aspects of the subject to paint a vivid picture of the artists and the birds they painted, with fascinating details of the lives of both.

Beautifully illustrated with original artworks from renowned artists including Audubon, Gould, MacGillivray, and Bauer, this landmark book will fascinate anyone interested in birds, natural history and art.


Jonathan Elphick studied zoology at Swansea University, and has subsequently worked for over 38 years as a wildlife writer, editor, consultant, lecturer and broadcaster, specialising in ornithology.

The many books and articles he has written include the award-winning field guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland, The Birdwatchers’ Handbook. He also worked for five years as researcher on Birds Britannica, the best-selling book on the cultural history of the birds of these islands and our changing attitudes to them. 

A passionate naturalist since childhood, he has travelled extensively at home and abroad to study birds and other wildlife and promote conservation. He is a Scientific Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.


Find out what others think of this book.

"… Jonathan Elphick's meticulously researched and sumptuously illustrated book - there are over 200 colour plates - narrates how bird art has evolved … In a book that covers huge amounts of territory, Elphick also features the lesser known or neglected artists such as William MacGillivray and the Dutch painter John Keulemans. He also manages to blend analysis of their technique and style with tales from their often eventful lives…The benefit of Elphick's rounded approach is a work of scholarship that is also a pleasure to read. If you have space in your library for just one book on bird art, then I would heartily recommend this superb volume."

Mark Cocker - BBC Wildlife Magazine

"…for a truly special gift, I would recommend Jonathan Elphick's Birds: The Art of Ornithology…In this beautifully produced and sumptuously illustrated work, Elphick tells the story of how bird art developed from the earliest images scratched on the walls of prehistoric caves to the present day, with the main focus on that golden age of avian illustration and portraiture, the 19th century. If no one takes the hint, then you can always buy it for yourself."

Stephen Moss - Guardian