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Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802779663
ISBN-10: 0802779662
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2012: How do birds experience being alive? Bird behaviorist and scientific historian Tim Birkhead demystifies the world of experience of birds of all feathers from the inside out, showing how their unique physiology gives them sensory powers beyond our own—including the ability to see UV light, echolocate, and migrate by feeling magnetic forces. With the wit and wonder of David Attenborough, he relates how scientists have discovered what it means to be a bird, over centuries and as new technologies have opened a golden age of sensory knowledge. Undaunted by the breathtaking scope of avian diversity, Birkhead explores their varied realities—from “an emperor penguin diving in the inky blackness of the Antarctic seas” to “a flamingo, sensing invisible rain falling hundreds of kilometers away” to a robin, hearing an earthworm’s “tiny bristles rustling against the sides” of his burrow, and dozens more marvelous avians.

Though his subject will appeal most deeply to bird lovers (and those who’ve wondered what it is like to be an ornithologist), Bird Sense will pique the curiosity of anyone interested in how any creature's experience of the world is shaped by the body it inhabits. –Mari Malcolm


An absolutely absorbing book, on almost every page there is an astonishing observation or revelation -- Peter Parker Daily Telegraph An eye-opening guide to all matters ornithological ... His tour of the frontiers of our understanding of birds is stuffed with mind-boggling facts and insights. Thoroughly engaging, it also gives us a thrilling sense of the vast, unmapped territories that lie beyond, waiting to be discovered -- Christopher Hart Sunday Times A joy to read, simultaneously fascinating and hilarious ... a book that is thoughtful, thoroughly researched and engagingly written throughout -- Jamie Condliffe New Scientist An inspired bringing together of all the latest scientific research on avian sight, sound, touch and taste as well as smell, along with some senses which are beyond human capabilities altogether ... if you pick up Bird Sense, however wise you think you are, you'll learn something new -- Michael McCarthy Independent This fascinating book has much to teach us, not just about what it means to be a bird, but about the rewards and responsibilities of our coexistence with these wonderful creatures -- David Wheatley Guardian Superb ... like having the top of your own head lifted off and its contents deliciously stirred: no one after reading this book could think it was possible to know too much, no one could think science removes us from feeling ... his richly engaging book so deepens our understanding of what is familiar that we are returned to the birds we know around us and the wider world with a revivified sense of how life comes and goes -- Tim Dee Observer Remarkable in its celebration of birds New York Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802779662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802779663
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The second part of my title comes the book's preface as a description of what the book is about. It would have made a more accurate subtitle as well; the actual subtitle "What It's Like to Be a Bird" comes from a similarly titled philosophical essay about bats but the preface explains that the book will take a much more pragmatic approach than that essay did.

This is much more a book of science than philosophy, with anatomical descriptions of eyes, ears, beaks, etc. These descriptions are given as an entry point to explaining how a bird experiences the world--sometimes like humans, sometimes very differently. Results of experiments (some, such as cutting out eyes and severing nerves, brutal enough to be called animal abuse) over the years are also given as further explanations of how birds interact with the world. Observations from the field are also included.

In addition to chapters on the five senses you'd expect, there are also chapters on magnetic sense and emotions. As some examples, the chapter on seeing explains how birds such as raptors have two foveas in their eyes which explains their excellent vision, the hearing chapter discusses the very asymmetrical positioning of owl ears, touch includes discussion of nerves both in beaks and brood patches, taste includes not only taste buds but some birds whose feathers taste terrible, smell includes vultures and seabirds among others, and magnetic sense of course discusses migration.

Due to my own opinions, the chapter on emotions was the one I was most interested in. This chapter explains how some scientists' approaches and beliefs about consciousness and feelings in other species have changed over the years, and gives some examples from nature which may or may not demonstrate emotions in birds.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the book and learned quite a few things that will add to my enjoyment and understanding of birds in the future. But obviously this isn't a book for everyone. I am NOT an avid birder so I am probably not the target audience for the book. My love of birds comes from being a life long bird owner (of the parrot variety) who also enjoys watching birds out of the my window at home and learning about birds during my travels.

Dr Birkhead does a wonderful job of explaining the various senses of a bird in an interesting and easy to understand manner. I would categorize it as a very well written and easy to understand academic paper written by a lifetime ornithologists.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on touch, taste, magnetic sense and emotions. The chapters on hearing and seeing were largely anatomy based and I skipped over a lot of those chapters.

I found the book to be quite frustrating at times and this was mainly due to the lack of pictures and/or drawings in the book. While reading this book I continually needed to leave my comfortable reading space to access the internet to get a visual picture of what he was talking about and in the end read most of the book at my computer desk instead of a more desirable location. Since this book is being marketed to the general public there needs to be more pictures to help describe what he is talking about.

My suggestion for the author would be to have a picture or a sketch of the birds being discussed in the the text (with the location and gender marked under the bird). For example, I would have loved to see a picture/sketch of the male south american finfoot (sungrebre) who has a pouch under its wings that allow him to fly with its babies safely tucked under its wings.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It has been years since I have read a book devoted to science. Tim Birkhead's new book "Bird Science: What It's Like to Be a Bird" appealed to me as something outside the scope of my usual readings. Also, I have a 17-some year old pet cockatiel to whom I am devoted, but I tend to avoid such things in my reading and reviews.

The book is unusual and, forgive me, a true rara avis. Tim Birkhead is a fellow of the Royal Society of London and a professor at the University of Sheffield. He has travelled throughout the world studying birds, which is both his work and his passion, and written extensively. Part of the appeal of this book was learning about Birkhead. He was fascinated by birds from the age of five when he kept a pair of zebra finches as pets. I found it intruiging that an early childhood interest should develop throughout a lifetime. Birkhead has studied the zebra finch throughout his career.

The subject of the book is "bird sense" or how birds use their senses to get along, how they may be like human senses and how they may differ. The subtitle of the book derives from an essay by the philosopher Thomas Nagel: "What is it Like to be a Bat"; but Birkhead, unlike Nagel is optimistic that science can provide at least a partial answer to the question. In his Preface, Birkhead explains the goal of his book:

"Bird Sense is about how birds perceive the world. It is based lifetime of ornithological research and a conviction that we have consistently underestimated what goes on in a bird's head. We already know quite a lot, and we are poised to make more discoveries. This is the story of how we got to where we are, and what the future holds.
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