Books  Zoology  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Birds of Prey 

Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide

Field / Identification GuideFlora / Fauna
There is a newer edition

Owls of the World

Having trouble separating your scops from your screech owls, Tengmalm's...

NHBS Price: £39.99 $49/€45 approx
The definitive work on owl identification, no birder's bookshelf should be without it!

Series: Helm Photographic Guide Series

By: Heimo Mikkola (Author)

512 pages, colour photos, colour distribution maps

Christopher Helm

Hardback | Aug 2012 | Edition: 1 | #198540 | ISBN-13: 9781408130285
Out of Print Details

About this book

Having trouble separating your scops from your screech owls, Tengmalm's from Tawny Owl or Collared and Spotted Owlets? Then this is the book for you. Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide is the ultimate photographic resource dedicated to the identification of these charismatic, largely nocturnal birds of prey. Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide contains lavish and spectacular photography from dozens of the world's finest natural history photographers, covering all of the world's 250 species of owls; particular attention is given to subspecific differences, sexing and ageing. The photos are accompanied by concise text on the identification, habitat, food, distribution and voice of these birds, along with accurate range maps. The definitive work on owl identification, no birder's bookshelf should be without it!

"Owl taxonomy is in a greater state of flux than for any other non-passerine group. As recently as 1991, Clements, in his Checklist of the Birds of the World (4th edn), listed 178 species of owls. The intervening 20 years have seen much work done on owl DNA coupled with a great increase in our knowledge of their vocalisations, ranges and biology. This has led to a massive increase in the number of owl species recognised today. This book identifies 249 species of owl and is honest enough to admit that it will not be the last word on owl taxonomy.

The opening chapters deal with what makes an owl, the nature of owls, evolution and taxonomy and owls and humans. Well written and illustrated, these offer an interesting and authoritative overview of these subjects. I was, however, surprised to learn nothing of the differences between the two closely related families, the Tytonidae and the Strigidae, which together comprise the Strigiformes or owls.

The meat of the book is of course the 249 species accounts. There are sections on identification, call, food and hunting, habitat, status and distribution, geographical variation and similar species plus range maps for each species. Many accounts are understandably brief, especially when dealing with rare and little-known species, but a little more diligent research would have filled in a few gaps. Nothing is given in the food and hunting sections of Balsas Screech Owl Megascops seductus or Guatemalan Pygmy Owl Glaucidium cobanense amongst others, yet their diets are listed in HBW.

Vocalisations are obviously very important for both finding and identifying nocturnal owls. The sections on call are a major let-down: often only a single call type, usually an advertising call, is described. While I have some sympathy here, in that the function of many owl calls is poorly known, in many cases a range of calls are well known. For the common and wide-ranging Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia, for example, the only call described is given as a ‘hollow, plaintive coo-coo oo’. A quick visit to reveals some of the diversity of calls emitted by this species, even if the same call-type has its function described differently there. Another perennial problem is transcribing these calls. It is tempting to say that the author doesn’t give two hoots regarding this problem, and this view is confirmed when reading the accounts of the 24 Strix species.

The author acknowledges borrowing heavily from other works, notably König et al. (Owls of the World, Christopher Helm, 2008). By doing so, however, errors are perpetuated, particularly in the distribution and range maps. To wit the Bismarck Hawk-Owl Ninox variegata does not occur on New Britain and the Cinnabar Hawk-Owl N. ios is now known to occur more widely on Sulawesi than shown. It would help greatly if such facts had been properly checked.

Despite these faults this is a well-produced and undeniably lovely book. It showcases over 750 colour photographs depicting all but a handful of the world’s species. Many are stunning, a fitting tribute to this diverse group which has long fascinated mankind. These photographs alone are reason enough to add this volume to your shelf."

- Richard Schofield, 27-05-2013,

"Although not strictly a field guide (you wouldn't take it out birding with you), Heimo Mikkola's Owls of the World: a Photographic Guide follows a more conventional field-guide structure. [...] this is very much [...] the serious birder's reference to owls of the world, covering all 249 species globally. A 70-page introduction explores all aspects of owls and their lives, and precedes almost 450 pages dedicated to the individual species accounts. Presentation is much more like a field guide: the text is condensed, detailed and precise and covers identification, similar species, diet, habitat, range and distribution, while each species is illustrated by a range map.

There is no doubt that this is a marvellous resource for the world's owls that would undeniably look great on any birder's bookshelf, but is it complete? Photographic guides are always aesthetically pleasing, though sometimes fall short in terms of displaying key identification features. Owls of the World is no exception; although most species are illustrated by several photographs tackling differing ages and subspecies in a variety of poses, some are represented by just a single image, while the separation of similar species pairs is occasionally not dealt with substantially. For me, the most obvious demonstration of this was long-eared and short-eared owl: two similar species with extensive distributions across the Northern Hemisphere for which more detail should have been included regarding their separation – in flight, for example. One could also argue that there are not enough images of birds in flight in general, although admittedly owls are a family that are invariably seen perched!

But both these minor criticisms are perhaps a little picky for a book which has been produced to the highest of standards. [...] Mikkola has illustrated his guide with photographs of the finest quality: three pairs of glowing eyes along the base of the front cover immediately entice the reader into a 500-page guide with no let-up in photographic endeavour. The text is overflowing with information that only a world authority such as Mikkola could share – this publication is true testament to his outstanding knowledge, gleaned from many years of pursuing nocturnal birds to the four corners of the globe and back. The £35 tag isn't cheap, but both quality and quantity of content justifies the price."

- Josh Jones, 22-11-2012,


"An absolutely tremendous work, with an almost unbelievably complete collection of high quality colour photographs of all the world's owls, with accompanying texts and maps covering identification, status and distribution etc. The taxonomy is up-to-date, with many formerly lumped species split, so that there are no less than 249 species recognised and covered. With hundreds of large format photographs – many of them never seen before – this superb hefty volume seems to have been seriously underpriced!"

- Steve Gantlett, Birding World 25(11), December 2012

Related titles


Chouettes et Hiboux du Monde: Un Guide Photographique [Owls of the World: A Photograpic Guide]

Also available in French

NHBS Price: £49.99 $61/€56 approx

Handbuch Eulen der Welt: Alle 249 Arten in 750 Farbfotos [Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide]

Also available in German

NHBS Price: £53.99 $66/€60 approx

Write a review

There are currently no reviews for this product. Be the first to review this product!


Heimo Mikkola is the world's best known owl expert. Originally from Finland, Mikkola has travelled the world, visiting 128 countries in the course of his 40-year research career in search of nocturnal birds. His previous books include Owls of Europe (Poyser).

Bestsellers in this subject

Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East

NHBS Special Offer Price: £29.99 £44.99 (Save £15.00) $37/€34 approx (ends 31/12/2016)


NHBS Price: £27.99 £34.99 (Save £7.00) $34/€31 approx

The Life of Buzzards

NHBS Price: £22.99 $28/€26 approx

The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East

NHBS Price: £29.99 $37/€34 approx

The Merlin

NHBS Price: £39.99 $49/€45 approx