Birdwatching is as old as America and as popular as apple pie. It's also as complex and colorful as baseball, as this intelligent, diverting history makes clear. The sightings began with John Josselyn, whose New England Rarities Discovered (1672) marked the first systematic American birdwatch. Josselyn recorded only 120 species but offered some novel applications for his scant collection, such as using an osprey beak to clean one's teeth. A century later came William Bartram, who joined love of nature with precise observation and thereby began modern nature-study. Bartram paved the way for Alexander Wilson, the ""father of American ornithology,"" a poor, uneducated, taciturn poet from Scotland who published a nine-volume study of American birds. Wilson's chief rival--and his opposite in almost every way--was the dashing, articulate John James Audubon. Wilson and Audubon divided the birdwatching world between them, at least until the advent of John Burroughs, ""Mr. Nature"" to the Victorian age. And so it went, through John Muir, Ernest Thompson Seton, and the Audubon Movement: a tangled, exciting, beautifully recalled history of passionate, eccentric feather-freaks. The authors cap their lively rundown with chapters on women birders, bird artists, the curious ""nature fakery"" controversy, and birding paraphernalia, and with an invaluable assessment of current field guides--the last demonstrating their skills as literary critics as well as ornithological boosters. This will make birders flap their wings with joy. It should also attract browsers in the arcane subhistories with which America abounds.