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Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide

Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide

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Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide

Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide


The Bottom Line

Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide is a masterfully comprehensive reference book for these unique raptors, bringing them to detailed life for birders even if they don't have a single owl on their life list. Not only does the book contain extensive background information on owls, but the 249 species accounts are carefully detailed and highlighted by superb photography. No birder with an interest in owls should be without this volume in their birding library.


  • Stunning photography with detailed captions is both informative and beautiful.
  • Comprehensive background information on owls is extensive without being overwhelming, and is easy to read no matter what a reader's birding experience may be.
  • Convenient volume size for reference, and while too big for an effective field guide, it is neither too weighty nor too bulky for frequent use.


  • Lacks any checkboxes or other way for readers to denote owl sightings or keep a list.


  • Title: Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide
  • Author: Heimo Mikkola
  • Publisher: Firefly Books
  • Publication Date: September 2012
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Bird Artwork: Photographs
  • Dimensions: 9.75" (24.8 cm) tall, 7.0" (17.8 cm) wide, 1.6" (4.1 cm) thick
  • Page Count: 512
  • ISBN: 978-1-77085-136-8
  • Price: $49.95 (USD)

Review - Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide

Owls are intriguing birds, and anyone – birder or non-birder – interested in owls should check out Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide. Authored by owl expert Heimo Mikkola, this book is a superb reference for these nocturnal raptors, covering all 249 recognized species of owls.

Though this book is not intended as a field guide, it is organized similarly to many familiar field birding books with an introduction followed by detailed species accounts. The difference is in the extensive amount of information this book covers; instead of just a brief introduction and abbreviated species details, Owls of the World features an in-depth overview of owls, and each individual species account is as thorough as current research permits.

The beginning of the book is 63 pages of basic owl introduction, from defining what an owl is to covering these birds' unique physiology such as ear tufts, silent flight, plumage dimorphism, extraordinary senses and more. Additional topics are also covered, including the evolution of owls, diet and pellets, breeding, owls in human culture and owl conservation. While this amount of information could easily be overwhelming, it is presented in straightforward language using appropriate examples as needed for thorough explanation. Numerous tables also help present large amounts of information in easy to scan formats. Pages 72-77 are particularly useful with the parts of a bird diagrams specifically about owls and explanations of how to effectively use the species accounts, including what abbreviations are included, a brief glossary and an explanation of how range maps are denoted.

The species accounts of individual owls are well organized and thorough, though Mikkola readily admits where more research is needed for some species. Though well known species include more details and lesser known, rare owls are less detailed, each species account includes information such as:

  • Scientific and common bird names, including old alternative names
  • Conservation status, including threatened, endangered and endemic designations
  • Measurements for length, weight, wing length and full wingspan
  • Call and sounds, including applicable mnemonics
  • Preferred food and hunting habits
  • Typical habitat preferences
  • Geographic variations, including subspecies or monotypic status
  • Similar species with profile number notes for easy reference

Each owl species profile also includes a detailed range map, with small pockets of distribution marked with arrows for better visibility. The range maps are large enough for easy viewing, unlike small thumbnails in many field guides.

With a title that includes "photographic guide" the expectations are high for exceptional photos in this book, and readers will not be disappointed. The book contains more than 700 photos, and more than 30 species include full page photos that show the owls in extraordinary clarity. Many species accounts feature multiple photos, and only two accounts are missing photos – one is critically endangered and the other is likely extinct, so there is no fault for lacking photos of those owls. Four additional accounts only feature photos of deceased owl specimens, but again, there are extenuating circumstances for those birds. Dozens of other accounts boast large, intimate photos of owls, and the photo quality is high throughout the book, with the birds shown in typical postures that highlight key field marks. Many species have dramatic photos of the birds in flight or assuming aggressive or threat postures. Informative captions ensure that each photo is not only an attractive illustration, but also contributes to the comprehensive details of the species profile.

While this book can easily serve as a birder's all-in-one owl reference, Mikkola has included a further reading list with additional suggested resources.

Any birder who wants to know anything about owls should first turn to Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide and chances are the answer will be there. Both comprehensive and attractive, this reference book is a pure delight with its attractive photos, easy organization and detailed overview of these intriguing raptors. Without a doubt, this book belongs on every birder's bookshelf, no matter how many owls they do or don't have on their life list.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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