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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Review: Bird Sense

I have to admit, I was a bit alarmed when I first saw the announcement for Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be  a Bird, since I've been using that subtitle for public presentations on bird vision since 2001.  Have I waited to long to write my own book on this topic?  Was I totally scooped?

I'm happy to say that Bird Sense is not the book that I would (and still may) write on this topic, but it is a good introduction to how birds see, hear, and otherwise sense and the world around them.  The roughly 225 pages of easily read text is organized into seven chapters addressing bird vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, magnetic sense, and emotions.  Most of the discussion covers the anatomy of these sensory systems, and how they vary between different birds.  This is a good review or introduction, though I found myself wanting more.  For instance, we know a lot more about ultraviolet vision in birds than was covered here, and I found myself wishing for more discussion of that amazing bird sense.

A highlight of the book is the author's own field experiences with birds around the world.  However, the extended discussion of the sex lives of Buffalo Weavers, while interesting, seemed like a tangent in the chapter on touch, but did make me see that bird sex would be a fun topic and hope that Birkhead will expand upon it in a future book.

Tim Birkhead is a scientist, and a careful one at that, which means that he sticks pretty closely to safe topics that are well studied, and there isn't a lot of speculation in this book.  This is good science, but may not ultimately satisfy folks who really want to know what it's like to be a bird--a question that may only be answered by equal parts science and imagination.  Bird Sense sticks closer to the science, and leaves most of the imagination up to the reader.

So there is still much more to explore and discuss about how birds see, hear, and otherwise experience the world.  That said, Bird Sense is a very well written, entertaining, and informative introduction to the topic, and a good place to start for anyone interested in birds and how they experience their world.

1 comment:

birdhouses said...

Nice book review. And I do hope that you write your own book soon!

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