Burgess Bird Book

In all of my childhood, I never heard of Thornton Burgess. It took motherhood and homeschooling for me to become acquainted with his genius and I am very sorry that I missed out on knowing him sooner. I personally do not love his writing voice, but I love his approach to the natural world and it’s critters. My children, however, are smitten with his style and consider him one of the greats. I am okay with that. In fact, I am thrilled.

If you homeschool in a classical, Charlotte Mason, or unschooling approach for very long, you are bound to discover The Burgess Bird Book. It seems to be on everyone’s lists – and for good reasons. Apparently, however, the publishers haven’t figured out that it is worthy of attention because it remains stubbornly out of print if you are looking for color illustrations. Since Burgess does such a wonderful job of describing the birds and their colors, it seems silly to me not to have full color illustrations. My inability to find a color copy of the printed text at a budget-friendly price sent me on a quest to find meaningful images and led me to some really interesting supplemental resources. (Note: You can find the color illustration in digital format here.)


For my homeschool, we are reading from a black and white Kindle copy (I am still holding out that I will come across a color copy at some point). At first, I was just looking the birds up on Bing Images to show to my children. While that remains the most economical option, I saw the enthusiasm that my children had for this work and decided that I wanted to do something more impactful.


While visiting my grandfather this summer, my aunt brought over her Backyard Birdsong (Eastern and Central North America) book and captivated my children with the illustrations and bird calls. I knew that we needed that for our bird study.


As I looked for Audubon field guides, I discovered the Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards. They are so pretty. The texture of the cards is smooth and sturdy. The illustration is skilful and inviting. The facts on the back are useful and interesting.


Plenty of homeschoolers have written blog posts about The Burgess Bird Book with links to free illustrations, coloring sheets, and activities. Following those rabbit trails, I discovered the Dover Fifty Favorite Birds coloring book and knew that that would be a great resource for my kids to color in as they listened to me read.


EDIT: ADDED 2 MORE DOVER COLORING BOOKS – Audubon’s Birds of America and The Birdwatchers Coloring Book.

The trouble with all of these great resources was that all of them have birds which are not in the Burgess Book and none of them cover all of the birds in the Burgess Book. I decided to be okay with that. I decided that the Burgess Book was the meat and that everything else was the mash potatoes and gravy.

Click on this link to see a PDF table I created which maps out which resources to use with each Burgess Bird Book chapter: Burgess Bird Resource Table (this is the updated table).


I do own the Childcraft 1983 Feathered Friends Annual and love it. I have not included it in this post because I do not plan to use it with the Burgess book. I plan to use it *after* we have finished Burgess. Feathered Friends is a beautiful resources loaded with scientific explanations, watercolor illustrations, photos, poems, short stories, and its own storytelling. The way that Feathered Friends is laid out, I just thought that it deserved to stand on its own as a follow-up resource – as a semester of elementary science.

I also found this bird matching game. It is lovely. It doesn’t tie into the Burgess Book very well, but it is absolutely worth mentioning.


  1. Lynn Custer says:

    When we were studying God Creation and His birds, I found a clock that had a different bird call on the hour. My sons loved it and even now when they are home, they remember the bird call!

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Lynn, that is so cool!

  2. Marlene Peterson says:

    There is a copy of the book in Internet Archives with colored illustrations. You can view it here: https://archive.org/stream/burgessbirdbookf00burgiala#page/n7/mode/2up

    1. Sara Masarik says:

      Thanks! I am updating the article this week with some other things I have found and I will include this.

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