Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird by T R Birkhead
What it's like to read great natural history
title, cover art and opening line of this book might arouse concern that it will
be a little flippant. Then, after a few pages, the reader realises that this
will be a fact-filled cogent exposition of the sensory perception of birds.
Birkhead's style is warm and engaging yet thoroughly scholarly, even a little
hard to put down. The rich fields of ornithology and ethology are examined with
excursions across diverse species and around the globe. Readers will struggle
not to read further on this fascinating topic or to review Birkhead's earlier
Bird Sense also offers a history of the ornithologists who have
contributed, or not, to our current knowledge. Birkhead evaluates the worth of
their contributions and I detect more than a little tongue-in-cheek commentary.
This treatment warms the narrative but in no way detracts from the expert
analysis of bird sensory systems. His explanation of `magnetic sense' is as
lucid as I have read and, having read similar discussions in recent books such
as Engineering Animals by Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean, I appreciate that
Birkhead's review of the science is very current. The senses of seeing, hearing,
touch, taste, smell and emotion are also reviewed.
on animal behaviour and ecology take trouble to avoid even the potential to
sentimentalise or anthropomorphise. This reasonable approach, with the emphasis
on `reason', is both scientific and practiced by Birkhead, but Bird Sense is set
apart by the author's confidence to make judgments about animals and humans.