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Tim Birkhead: Bird Sense


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‘An absolutely absorbing book, on almost every page there is an astonishing observation or revelation’ Peter Parker, Daily Telegraph


What is it like to be a swift, flying at over one hundred kilometres an hour? Or a kiwi, plodding flightlessly among the humid undergrowth in the pitch dark of a New Zealand night? And what is going on inside the head of a nightingale as it sings, and how does its brain improvise? Bird Sense addresses questions like these and many more, by describing the senses of birds that enable them to interpret their environment and to interact with each other. Our affinity for birds is often said to be the result of shared senses – vision and hearing – but how exactly do their senses compare with our own? And what about a bird’s sense of taste, or smell, or touch or the ability to detect the earth’s magnetic field? Or the extraordinary ability of desert birds to detect rain hundreds of kilometres away – how do they do it? 

Bird Sense is based on a conviction that we have consistently underestimated what goes on in a bird’s head. Our understanding of bird behaviour is simultaneously informed and constrained by the way we watch and study them. By drawing attention to the way these frameworks both facilitate and inhibit discovery, it identifies ways we can escape from them to seek a new understanding. 

‘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

Tim Birkhead is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Emeritus Professor of Zoology in the School of Biosciences at the University of Sheffield. His research has taken him all over the world in the quest to understand the lives of birds, among his many prize-winning books are The Wisdom of Birds: A History of Ornithology, The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg and Birds and Us.


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