Literary Awards

Each year the John Burrough's Association honors authors, illustrators, and publishers of the best published nature writing and celebrates their work with three awards:

John Burroughs Medal
awarded to the author of a distinguished book of nature writing that combines accurate scientific information with firsthand fieldwork and creative natural history writing
John Burroughs Nature Essay Award
awarded to an outstanding published natural history essay that is scientifically accurate, yet does more by using a personal point of view in vivid writing
Riverby Awards
awarded to excellent natural history books for young readers that contain perceptive and artistic accounts of direct experiences in the world of nature


Every April, on the first Monday, we gather at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to present the John Burroughs Medal, Outstanding Nature Essay Award and Riverby Awards to the authors, illustrators, and publishers of the best published nature writing and celebrate their work.


The John Burroughs Association seeks to enrich lives through nature by encouraging and promoting nature writing. Not only do these literary awards promote reading nature books and exploration of the natural world, they serve to advance their authors as they seek additional publication, and they stand as inspiration to other nature writers. To further encourage engagement with nature both on and off the page, we donate sets of the award-winning books to libraries and schools in Ulster and Dutchess Counties in New York, in the broad neighborhood of John Burroughs. Some of the books are also used in teaching guides.

The continued success of these awards depends on donations from members and friends. We ask that you consider supporting this important literary program which plays such a significant role in promoting the writing and reading of quality nature literature. You may donate online, or gifts may also be mailed to the John Burroughs Association, 15 West 77th St, New York, NY 10024-5192.

2014 Award Winners:

  • sightlines book coverSightlines by Kathleen Jamie (published by The Experiment, New York, 2013):Sightlines offers a landmark work about the natural world and our relationship to it. Jamie explores her native Scottish surroundings, intermingling personal history with observations of the landscape. Her travels lead her to study whale bones in Norwegian museums, explore remote Scottish islands, and watch icebergs in the Arctic. Sightlines invites us to take a moment to pause and reconsider what nature gives us.

    Jamie is the author of four books of poetry and three nonfiction titles, including Sightlines. In 2012 she won the Costa Book Award for Poetry and is one of the United Kingdom's foremost poets. Jamie is the Chair of Poetry at the University of Stirling, Scotland, and lives with her family in Fife, Scotland.
  • orion-magazineCouncil of the Pecans by Robin Wall Kimmerer (published by Orion Magazine in its September/October 2013 issue): In "Council of the Pecans" Kimmerer writes with a naturalist's knowledge, a poet's imagination, and the narrative grace of a fine storyteller. She effortlessly weaves the social history of the Potawatomi Native Americans with detailed biological information about pecans, especially their abundance during mast fruiting, thereby giving substance to the value of sacred land. Not only are the pecan trees a model for human behavior, but they are a symbol for the resilience of Kimmerer's Potawatomi peoples. She writes with a sensitive descriptive hand, knowing the effectiveness of varying sentence rhythms along with an awareness of concrete verbs in telling her informative and moving story of the metaphorically expressive "Council of the Pecans."

    "Orion is thrilled that Robin Wall Kimmerer's essay 'Council of the Pecans' has won the John Burroughs Nature Essay Award. The gracefulness of Robin's prose, combined with her unique ability to bring multiple ways of knowing to bear on her subject matter, made this a standout piece for Orion. We are so proud to see it honored in this way." Orion Magazine

    Kimmerer is also the author of a fabulous new book: Braiding Sweetgrass

    Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing in 2005. Her writings have appeared in Orion, Whole Terrain, and numerous scientific journals. She lives in Fabius, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

    Read the essay published in Orion.
  •  the-animal-book The Animal Book, Steve Jenkins, author, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, (2013).
     darwins-frog The Mystery of Darwin's Frog, Marty Crump, author, illustrations, by Steve Jenkins and Edel Rodriquez, Boyds Mills Press, (2013).
     parrots-over-puerto-rico Parrots Over Puerto Rico, Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore, authors, Susan L. Roth, collages, Lee & Low Books, Inc., (2013).
     the-secret-pool The Secret Pool, Kimberly Ridley, author, and Rebekah Raye, illustrator, Tilbury House Nature Book, (2013). 
     the-secret-pool Honorable Mention: Ellie's Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell, Judith L. Li, author, M.L. Herring, illustrator, Oregon University Press, (2013). 

2013 Award Winners:

  • FeathersFeathers by Thor Hanson (published by Basic Books): To read this book is to immerse yourself in the cozy delights of a down comforter, while stimulating your intellect with pure fascination. The stories in Feathers are told with all the precision and beauty of a finely cut quill pen. As one juror described it, "this book is great natural history with intense focus and telescopic detail. It soars through an engaging blend of history, archaeology, animal behavior, art, physics, and conservation. Uplifting, swift, learned, and fun," it takes you from the wildest of natural habitats to Las Vegas dance halls, and from museum vaults to houses of haute couture. Hanson is lauded by the selection committee as one of our strongest winners for his excellence in the tradition of natural history writing.

    Thor Hanson is an independent conservation biologist and author who lives with his family in the San Juan Islands of Washington, and has studied Central American trees and songbirds, nest predation in Tanzania, and the grisly feeding habits of African vultures. He is the author of The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda.
  • The LarchThe Larch by Rick Bass: Where John Burroughs had Riverby and Slabsides as his backyard to see the secrets that lurk on all sides in nature, Rick Bass has the Yaak Valley in Northwestern Montana, as his. For years he has been tramping its woods and watching its wildlife. As this year's nature essay contest winner, The Larch, attests, looking closely at something others might disregard, [like] the larch tree itself, Rick Bass sees the novel in the familiar, exploring all aspects of this strange deciduous conifer. His knowledge of the larch is scientific, wide-ranging, and his prose is poetic in its invocation of the nobility of this "humble" subject, as he puts it. The Larch fits right in the tradition of a John Burroughs essay as it discovers "something everlastingly present in what appeared to be evanescent." The essay highlights the tree itself, its place in the Yaak Valley ecosystem, and the beauty of its gold as it changes color in Autumn. Read the essay published in Orion.
  • A Leaf Can BeA Leaf Can Be, Laura Purdie Salas, author, and Violeta Dabija, illustrator, Lerner Publishing Group/Millbrook Press, (2012).

    Moonbird 50Moonbird, Phillip Hoose, author, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/FSG, (2012).
    Rachael Carson and Her Book That Changed the World, Laurie Lawlor, author, and Laura Beingessner, Illustrator, Holiday House, (2012).

    Ocean SunlightOcean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed The Seas, Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, authors, Molly Bang, illustrator, Scholastic Inc./The Blue Sky Press (2012).

    Wild Horse Scientistsild Horse Scientists, Kay Frydenborg, author, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, (2012).
  • John Burroughs Medal
  • John Burroughs Nature Essay Award
  • Riverby Awards

Previous Award Winners:

Riverby Award

List of Nature Books for Young Readers
During his life, John Burroughs' nature essays for children were published in special school editions and caused nature study to blossom in classrooms all over America. The Riverby Award competition for excellent natural history books for young readers, recognizing outstanding natural history books for children that contain perceptive and artistic accounts of direct experiences in the world of nature, was established in 1988 to recognize Burroughs' efforts to awaken interest in young naturalists. Each year, the results of the competition are formally recognized at the John Burroughs Association's award ceremony, held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The Association hopes that the list will encourage writers, artists, and publishers to produce books that invite young readers to explore the natural world for themselves.

Download the sortable Excel version of the Riverby Awardees for excellence in natural history books for young readers here.

John Burroughs Nature Essay Award

Each year since 1993, the John Burroughs Association has selected an outstanding published natural history essay, with selection based on the work's content and literary value. An award of recognition is presented to the author of the selected essay at the Association's annual luncheon and awards ceremony held every April at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The following list presents the essay award winners to date.

• 2013, Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Council of the Pecans," Orion Magazine, (September/October 2013)

• 2012, Rick Bass, "The Larch", Orion, (September/October 2012)

• 2011, Brian Doyle, "The Creature Beyond the Mountains", Orion, (September/October 2011)

• 2010, Quinn, Jill Sisson , "Sign Here If You Exist", Ecotone, (Fall 2010)

• 2009, Sanders, Scott Russell, "Mind in the Forest", Orion, (November/December 2009)

• 2008, Smith, Mark A., "Animalcules and Other Little Subjects", Isotope (Fall/Winter 2008)

• 2007, Cokinos, Christopher, "The Consolations of Extinction", Orion (May/June 2007)

• 2006, Gessner, David, "Learning to Surf", Orion (March/April 2006)

• 2005, Lowry, Judith, "Birdsong Ripens Berries, Wind Brings the Seeds", Orion (May/June 2005)

• 2004. Kanze, Edward, "In Search of Something Lost", Adirondack Life (May/June, 2004)

• 2003. House, Freeman, "Afterlife", Orion (May/June, 2003)

• 2002. Lockwood, Jeff, "Voices from the Past", Orion -Twentieth Anniversary Issue (Summer, 2002)

• 2001. Smuts, Barbara, "Naturalist at Large: Coming Home", Natural History (October, 2001)

• 2000. Conniff, Richard, "So Tiny, so Mean", Smithsonian Magazine (September, 2000)

• 1999. Scott Russell Sanders, "Through the Eyes of a Hawk", Audubon (July-Aug. 1999)

• 1998. Kenneth Brower, "Let's Root for the Coot", Smithsonian (December 1998)

• 1997. Michael Pollan, "Building a Room of My Own", New York Times Magazine (February 9, 1997)

• 1996. Geerat Vermeij, "The Touch of a Shell", Discover (August, 1996)

• 1995. Gary Noel Ross, "Butterfly Wrangling in Louisiana", Natural History Magazine (May, 1995)

• 1994. John Daniel, "Toward Wild Heartlands", Audubon Magazine (Sept. 10, 1994)

• 1993. John Mitchell, "Greens", Sanctuary (Sept.-Oct., 1993)

JBA Medal

The John Burroughs Association publicly recognizes well-written and illustrated natural history publications. Each year the Burroughs medal (shown at left) is awarded to the author of a distinguished book of natural history, with the presentation made during the Association's annual meeting on the first Monday of April.

The following list presents all of the Burroughs Medal winners to date. Asterisked books are in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History Library. Note: the medal was not awarded 1931, 1935, 1937, 1944, 1947, 1951, 1959, 1975, and 1980.

2014: Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines,Experiment, 2013

2013: Thor Hanson, Feathers, Basic Books/Perseus BooksGroup, 2011

2012: Haogland, Edward (Ted), Sex and the River Styx, Chelsea Green, 2011

2011: Bailey, Elisabeth Tova, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Algonquin Books, 2010

2010: Welland, Michael, Sand, University of California Press, 2009

2009: Burroughs, Franklin, Confluence: Merrymeeting Bay, Tilbury House, 2006

2008: Whitty, Julia, The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007

2007: Meloy, Ellen. Eating Stone Pantheon Books, 2005

2006: Kroodsma, Donald. The Singing Life of Birds Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

2005: Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses Oregon State University Press, 2003.

2004: Levin, Ted. Liquid Land: A Journey Through The Florida Everglades The University of Georgia Press, 2003.

2003: Safina, Carl. Eye Of The Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival Henry Holt and Company, 2002.

2002: Lamberton, Ken. Wilderness and Razor Wire. Mercury House, 2000.

2001: Carroll, David M. Swampwalker's Journal. Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

2000: Heindrich, Bernd. Mind Of the Raven. New York : HarperCollins, 1999.

1999: DeBlieu, Jan. Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998.*

1998: Alcock, John. In a Desert Garden. New York : W.W. Norton, 1997.

1997: Quammen, David. The Song Of The Dodo. New York : Scribner, 1996.*

1996: Green, Bill. Water, Ice and Stone. New York : Harmony Books, 1995.*

1995: Packer, Craig. Into Africa. Chicago : University of Chicago Press,1994.*

1994: Campbell, David G. The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.*

1993: Dethier, Vincent G. Crickets and Katydids, Concerts and Solos. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.*

1992: Norris, Kenneth S. Dolphin Days. New York : W.W. Norton, 1991.*

1991: Nelson, Richard. The Island Within. San Francisco : North Point Press,1989.*

1990: McPhee, John. The Control of Nature. New York : Farrar Straus Giroux,1989.

1989: Kilham, Lawrence. On Watching Birds. Chelsea, Vt. : Chelsea Green, 1988.*

1988: Horton, Tom. Bay Country. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.*

1987: Pyle, Robert Michael. Wintergreen. New York : Scribner's, 1986.*

1986: Nabhan, Gary Paul. Gathering in the Desert. Tucson : University of Arizona Press, 1985.

1985: Owens, Mark and Delia. Cry of the Kalahari. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1984.*

1984: Wallace, David Rains. The Klamath Knot. San Francisco : Sierra Club Books, 1983.*

1983: Skutch, Alexander F. A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1980.*

1982: Matthiessen, Peter. Sand Rivers. New York : Viking Press, 1981.*

1981: Durant, Mary, and Harwood, Michael. On the Road with John James Audubon.New York : Dodd, Mead, 1980.*

1979: Lopez, Barry Holstun. Of Wolves and Men. New York : Scribner's, 1978.*

1978: Kirk, Ruth. Desert: The American Southwest. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1973.*

1977: Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. Madison, Wis. : Tamarack Press, 1977.*

1976: Zwinger, Ann Haymond. Run, River, Run. New York : Harper Row, 1975.*

1974: Olson, Sigurd F. Wilderness Days. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1972.

1973: Barlow, Elizabeth. The Forests and Wetlands of New York City. Boston : Little, Brown, 1971.*

1972: Arbib, Robert S. The Lord's Woods. New York : Norton, 1971.

1971: Terres, John K. From Laurel Hill to Siler's Bog. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.*

1970: Scheffer, Victor B. The Year of the Whale. New York : Scribner's, 1969.*

1969: Lawrence, Louise de Kiriline. The Lovely and the Wild. New York : McGraw-Hill, 1968.*

1968: Borland, Hal G. Hill Country Harvest. Philadelphia : Lippincott, 1967.

1967: Ogburn, Jr., Charlton. The Winter Beach. Morrow.

1966: Darling, Louis. The Gull's Way. Morrow.

1965: Brooks, Paul. Roadless Area. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.

1964: Hay, John. The Great Beach. Garden City : Doubleday, 1963.

1963: Murie, Adolph. A Naturalist in Alaska. New York : Devin-Adair, 1961.*

1962: Sutton, George Miksch. Iceland Summer. Norman : University of Oklahoma Press.*

1961: Eiseley, Loren C. The Firmament of Time. New York : Atheneum, 1960.*

1960: Kieran, John. A Natural History of New York City. Boston : Houghton-Mifflin, 1959.*

1958: Allen, Robert Porter. On the Trail of the Vanishing Birds. New York: McGraw Hill, 1957.

1957: Carr, Archie Fairly. The Windward Road. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.*

1956: Murchie, Guy. Song of the Sky. Houghton Mifflin.

1955:Grange, Wallace B. Those of the Forest. New York : Devin-Adair, 1953.*

1954: Krutch, Joseph Wood. The Desert Year. New York : Bobbs, 1952.

1953: Klingel, Gilbert. The Bay. New York : Dodd, Mead, 1951.*

1952: Carson, Rachel L. The Sea Around Us. New York : Oxford University Press, 1951.*

1950: Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds Over America. New York : Dodd, Mead, 1948.*

1949: Cruickshank, Helen. Flight into Sunshine. New York : Macmillan, 1948.*

1948: Stanwell-Fletcher, Theodora. Driftwood Valley. Boston : Little, Brown, 1946.*

1946: Jaques, Mr. and Mrs. Frances Lee. Snowshoe Country. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1944.

1945: Platt, Rutherford. This Green World. New York : Dodd, Mead, 1944.*

1943: Teale, Edwin Way. Near Horizons. New York : Dodd, Mead, 1942.*

1942: Armstrong, Edward A. Birds of the Grey Wind. London ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1940.*

1941: Halle, Jr., Louis J. Birds against Men. New York : Viking Press, 1938.*

1940: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. Life Histories of North American Birds (18-titleseries). U.S. G.P.O.

1939: Pearson, T. Gilbert. Adventures in Bird Protection. New York : Appleton-Century,1937.*

1938: Murphy, Robert Cushman. Oceanic Birds of South America. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1936.*

1936: Gorst, Charles Crawford. Recordings of Bird Calls. Publisher NA.

1934: Christman, W. W. Wild Pasture Pine. Albany : The Argus Co., 1933.

1933: Medsger, Oliver P. Nature Rambles. New York : Wayne, 1931-1932.

1932: Dellenbaugh, Frederick S. A Canyon Voyage. New York : Putnam, 1908.

1930: Rutledge, Archibald. Peace in the Heart. Garden City : Doubleday, 1930.

1929: Chapman, Frank M. Handbook of North American Birds. New York : Appleton, 1929.*

1928: McCarthy, John Russell. Nature Poems. Publisher NA.

1927: Seton, Ernest Thompson. Lives of Game Animals. Scribner's.*
1926. Beebe, William. Pheasants of the World. New York Zoological Society.