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The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live Hardcover – October 20, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As Tudge remarks in the preface to this excellent exploration of birds, he became obsessed with nature as a child but discovered that he didn’t want to be a scientist—he just liked being around creatures and wanted to write books about them. Following on the heels of his book about one of his great indulgences (The Tree, 2006) comes this fond look at “a superior class of creatures.” Dividing his book into four parts, Tudge first examines the physical aspects of birds’ adaptations for flight and their evolution from dinosaurs. The second part explains scientific classification and provides a list of all the bird families of the world. Part three is the meat of the book, focusing on how birds conduct their lives: how they eat, migrate, court and raise their chicks, behave socially, and whether or not birds can be considered intelligent. Finally, the fourth part looks at birds and humans: specifically, at how we live with birds and impact their lives and their environment. Illustrated throughout with lovely line drawings, this book is another fine example of Tudge’s ability to make even the most esoteric science approachable. --Nancy Bent


Praise from abroad for The Bird
Chosen as a best book of the year by The Independent

“Colin Tudge marries the poetry and the science of the dinosaur’s best-loved descendants. . . . A master of clear science writing, Tudge throws a state-of-the-art spotlight on every aspect of the bird’s life from migration to cooperation.”
The Independent

“[A] book simply fizzing with ideas. Provoking yet always persuasively argued. . . . Besides having an enviable grasp of scientific fact, Tudge writes with narrative fluency.”
Literary Review

“Tudge’s writing is always clear and frequently embellished with wry humor. Occasionally, it is inspired.”
Sunday Telegraph

“In the book’s final section . . . the gloves are off, and he produces a masterful critique of politicians and economists, making an excellent (but probably doomed) case against the geopolitical status quo and its tragic effect on the world’s birds. This is a powerful, thoughtful piece of writing, which transforms an entertaining romp through avian biology into a compelling tract for our times.”

Praise for The Tree
“Enchanting . . . Tudge sees grandeur in how trees exist in the world . . . and demonstrates it with fascinating stories.”
New York Times Book Review

“Tudge writes in the great tradition of naturalists such as Humboldt and John Muir. . . . Eloquent and deeply persuasive.”
Los Angeles Times

“A love letter to trees, written with passion and scientific rigour . . . a pleasure to read. Tudge writes with warmth and wit.”
Financial Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (October 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307342042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307342041
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,579,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Brilliant book. Like Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything, but for birds.

And not just birds as they exist in the here and now, but birds in the historical and fossil record as well. So in addition to discussions of anything having to do with birds, this book also delves deeply into problems of bird taxonomy, including changes that are coming as a result of recent DNA taxonomical work in the field. And you can't have THAT discussion without also reviewing the basics of natural selection and contemporary evolutionary theory, a discussion that, for birds, makes no sense without also discussing plate tectonics, climate, and flora from the most ancient times to the present.

A very wide ranging book, all keyed on what we think is a simple topic, but isn't.

Very readable and perfectly appropriate for amateur enthusiasts, science readers, or birding professionals. One of the book's many strengths is that it covers this vast amount of very technical and arcane knowledge without being a technical or arcane book. Quite enjoyable, actually. Zesty, even.

I'm keeping this around as a reference (it does a great job of reviewing the taxonomical tree as it currently exists, and therefore puts literally every bird on the planet in its current location...and talks about how those locations likely will change in the near future). I'll be giving copies to friends as well.

Excellent achievement.
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Format: Hardcover
Tudge is a terrific science writer. He can summarize concepts clearly without over simplifying, and has an engaging prose style leavened with a sense of humor. At the same time, he has an impressive mastery of the details pertaining to a large number of bird species. He never hesitates to point out the limits of our knowledge, what is still really unresolved, and what is very speculative - it may be the birds are not descended from the dinosaurs, but from a sister line.

Having said all that, I must acknowledge I sometimes skimmed some of the chapters. Then again, I am not a bird watcher.

Tudge narrates the wide variety of bird behaviors, and, fortunately, much has been learned to explain these behaviors. Some examples: I had read an earlier book on bird migration, but the idea that plate tectonics plays a role in some migration routes was new to me, routes being preserved as land masses moved further apart. I loved the explanation for why the pub peacock favored the blue biscuits over other colored biscuits (p.199) - because it makes sense to prefer the more common food and more of the biscuits were blue than other colors. Who cannot be impressed that some nestlings like Indigo Buntings spend their time studying the night sky, or that swan parents become more successful with age and experience?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tudge is one of the great explainers of our day, versed in his subject (natural science –botany and biology), possessed of a fluid prose style and rich sense of humor (but he never lets the humor overwhelm his subject), and able to render complicated subjects interesting and explicable, without overstating or simplifying what he is explaining. This is the second book by him that I have read. The first was The Variety of Life: A Survey and Celebration of All the Creatures That Have Ever Lived (2000), a book I could not put down once I started it.

Here his subject is birds and what a fascinating tour of the avian kingdom he takes us on. En route, he explains where birds came from and why their bodies and systems are put together the way they are (the limits imposed by flight), identifies and describes all the families in the bird kingdom (“All the Birds in the World: An Annotated Cast List,” at 93 pages, the longest chapter in the book), deftly summarizes all we know and don’t know about the puzzling business of bird migration (assesses the plusses and minuses of avian diets (meat versus grain, nuts, or grass) and how diet determines stomach, gut and crop in birds, and defecation and urination practices too, and concludes with fascinating sections on bird sex and bird intelligence. One of Tudge’s (many) virtues as an explainer is that he doesn’t oversimplify and he never claims too much for the state of scientific knowledge on a topic. Thus, discussing bird migration, a truly puzzling phenomenon (how did it start? given the high cost in energy and risk to the migrating birds, what was its original advantage?), he writes:

"Definitive answers to these obvious questions are not yet forthcoming.
Read more ›
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A Kid's Review on July 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
And if you do, there's a ton of information written in an entertaining way. Some chapters, especially the one on taxonomy, are best as a reference. I found it useful to read them in conjunction with an illustrated guide(there are few illustrations). Others - like the ones on behavior - are both a "fun read" and useful in confirming or explaining your own observations on how birds live their lives among us. I'm not a birder, but a retired scientist and now a gardener, so I'm in the company of birds for a few hours a day. And I live near a major coastal fly way and love to bike out there and observe the visitors. Mr. Tudge has written a book that should appeal to those who love to observe nature.
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