Books for Birding in Nepal

"One cannot have too many good bird books” (RALPH HOFFMANN, 1927)
Before I first came to Nepal, I asked the ornithologist S. Dillon Ripley of the Smithsonian Institution what bird book to buy. In 1963 there were none on Nepal, he said, so I’d have to rely on Indian bird books. Dr Ripley advised me to look for the ones by Salim Ali, the dean of Indian ornithology.

In Kathmandu, Bob Fleming Sr, a well known birder, recommended Ali’s Book of Indian Birds (1941) and Indian Hill Birds (1949). I used them until 1976, when Fleming came out with his own Birds of Nepal, co-authored with his son R.L. Fleming Jr and L.S. Bangdel. My battered copy of their 1979 second edition is full up with sightings by date and place, scribbled in the margins. 

In 1985, Carol and Tim Inskipp published their large Guide to the Birds of Nepal (1985), followed by Birdwatchers’ Guide to Nepal (1988), and in 2000 by Richard Grimmett and the Inskipps’ handy Birds of Nepal.

Others books a serious Nepal bird watcher might want:

  • For field identification ― A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (1995). Helps resolve differences between sub-species.

  • On natural history ― Birds of the Central Himalayas: An Ecological Approach by Dorothy Mierow (1988); Birds of Nepal: Field Ecology, Natural History and Conservation by Tej Kumar Shrestha (2000); and Nepal’s Forest Birds: Their Status and Conservation by Carol Inskipp (1989). Detailed, informative reads.

  • On Indian birds, as comprehensive guides ― The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali (1941, 1996 centenary edition) and A Field Guide to the Birds of India by Krys Kazmierczak (2000). Birds ignore political boundaries.

    For further reference, consider the following, although by their size they aren’t “field guides,” unless there’s a Sherpa along to carry them for you:

  • Birds of the Indian Subcontinent, by R. Grimmett, C. Inskipp and T. Inskipp (1998). A thick 5-lb. (2.27 kg.) tome. The ‘Bible’ of South Asian birding.

  • Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, by Salim Ali and S. Dillon Ripley (1983). Republished in India in 2001, in paperback, as a 10-volume boxed set. Very informative.

  • Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide, by P.C. Rasmussen and J.C. Anderton (2005). Excellent, in 2 volumes.

    Mind you, a lot of ink has been spilled on bird books for Nepal and India, more than are listed here. And if these aren’t enough, birders with historical curiosity may want to read the scattered writings of Nepal’s first ornithologist, the 19th century British diplomat-naturalist, Brian H. Hodgson. While Hodgson was the British Resident to the Court of Nepal, he was restricted to the Kathmandu valley. Nevertheless, he trained and sent Nepali collectors out all across the kingdom. Altogether they collected over 9,000 specimens for him, of which 124 were new to science. Many species bear his name: hodgsonii. And there is one genus: Hodgsonius.

    On Hodgson’s life and work, see A Himalayan Ornithologist: The Life and Work of Brian Houghton Hodgson by Mark Cocker and Carol Inskipp (1988), or the chapter on ‘A pioneer of Himalayan ornithology’ by Carol Inskipp in The Origins of Himalayan Studies: Brian Houghton Hodgson in Nepal and Darjeeling 1820-1858, edited by David Waterhouse (2005).

    If you are a book collector, watch for Indian Birds: Being a Key to the Common Birds of the Plains of India by Douglas Dewar (1910; rev. ed. 1920) along with Dewar’s Birds of the Plains (1908), Glimpses of Indian Birds (1913), Birds of the Indian Hills (1915), and others. With luck, you might even stumble across Mystery Birds of India (1945) by the equally mysterious pseudonymous “Snilloc”. A bigger prize is the rare three volume Birds of India by T.C. Jerdon (1862), with this encyclopedic subtitle: Being a Natural History of All the Birds Known to Inhabit Continental India; with Descriptions of the Species, Genera, Families, Tribes, and Orders, and a Brief Notice of Such Families as are Not Found in India, Making It a Manual of Ornithology Specially Adapted for India.

  • Good birding!

Don Messerschmidt is a corresponding editor to ECS Nepal magazine. He can be          contacted at Some of the books listed may be found in Kathmandu bookstores.