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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Sir David Attenborough, veteran of many major book/television series combinations, has knocked them for six again with 'The Life of Birds'. This book is the perfect companion for learning more while watching the series, and yet stands alone admirably for those who haven't seen the series.
Sir David examines all aspects of the diversity of the community of birds. He begins with a discussion of what is considered the prime difference between birds and other animals -- flight. He starts by examining the archaeological record, and then proceeds to examine reasons why flight might have come to be developed in the first place. One of the early fossils of flying animals is the Archaeopteryx, which Sir David states 'could not have been the first backboned animal to have taken to the air. Its feathers have such a complex structure that they must be the product of a long evolutionary process...'
Of course, flight is not a requirement of birds. 'Giant flightless birds, however, do still stalk the earth,' says Sir David, who then proceeds to examine flightless birds and the reasons why they abandoned flight. 'Flying is very expensive in terms of energy and birds do not travel by air if it is safe for them to do so by land.'
Sir David examines the life cycles of several species of bird, from egg to death, which includes the feeding habits, the mating habits, and the limits of endurance. Here you will learn the different nesting and parenting problems. 'Most birds of prey lay more eggs than they can raise, feed the eldest preferentially and allow it to harry its younger sibling so unrelentingly that it dies. The winner will then usually eat the loser, so the nutriment invested by the parents in the extra egg and the food they have given to the nestling it produced, is not wasted. The macaroni penguin has a strange variant of this practice. It also lays two eggs, but the first is smaller than the second, hatches later and seldom survives.'
You will learn about different feeding patterns, including those birds which nose-dive into water to catch their dinner. 'Entering the water in order to find food clearly presents greater problems than making brief dips with the beak. Because birds are warm-blooded, they run the risk of getting seriously chilled.'
The European dipper relies upon oils and air pockets between feathers to keep itself warm during such dips. Of course, many birds live on or in the water. This points out the diversity apparent in birds. Obviously penguins, ducks, geese, etc. have no problems in the water, even very cold water.
Mating habits include such things as bright plumage, interesting movements and feather patterns that change, songs and signals, and even intricate dance/flight patterns. For instance, the blue-footed booby of Galapagos tends to display and dance to attract a mate (very human of it, in fact!). Some mate more easily than others -- 'The male European wren expects to provide her with a nest and a male may build up to a dozen nests in different sites before he produces one that convinces a female that he will be an adequate partner.' The photographs in this section of the book are very interesting, many are humourous and some even romantic.
The limits of endurance show that birds have adapted themselves to every climate on earth. Emperor penguins have no trouble with the antarctic cold. The sandgrouse has adapted itself to desert climates. And of course, several birds have adapted themselves to the environments of humanity, thriving on the food production methods and refuse of our society.
A fascinating tale, a great life to be read. 'The Life of Birds' is essential to any armchair birdwatcher, and anyone interested in nature, and will be enjoyed by many more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2006
This is a fantastic book that accompanies the television series. David Attenborough writes very well on basically every aspect on birds lives.
It shows many different species and their way of getting enough food, nesting and raising young, finding a mate and flying.

The chapter 'To fly or not to fly' paticularly got me interested. It is the first chapter and it is about how birds evolved from prehistoric dinosaurs, and some of the flightless birds that have evolved on the Galapagos islands. There are other chapters about flight and about how many different species of bird manage to do so.

It has excellent photos, and anyone intrested in birds should have a copy, as there are not many books about the subject as good as this!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 1999
I have been birding for over 20 years. This book has a great deal to offer a variety of people intersted in birds from beginner to expert. The photography is stunning and there are some great scientific details.
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on 19 March 2009
This book should have been called Life of Bird Behaviour instead of Life of Birds as it deals with behaviour patterns rather than bird groups.
There is disagreement between the dustcover and the forward as to how many species of birds there are. Iwonder how many authors read dustcovers to correct inaccuracies.
The 10 chapters are very well written and illustrated as is expectedand cover a)to fly or not to fly b)the mastery of flight c)the insatiable appetite d)meat eaters e)fishing for a living f)signals and songs g)finding partners h)the demands of the egg i)the problems of parenthood andj)the limits of endurance.
This the only book you will need on bird behaviour.
The pages on sources of photographs (314-5) are very badly laid out
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2013
Excellent, just what I wanted and expected, would recommend to anyone who wants to read rather than watch, prefer to pick up and put down. Excellent information.
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on 19 June 2008
So many factual texts can be hard to read. but this book contains an enormous range of information without being in such depth that the 'average' reader gets lost. It is stuffed with beautiful pictures. I would encourage anyone with even a passing interest in birds to read it. You'll be hooked and want to know more...
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on 9 March 2014
Just as you would expect, it's the series in book form with beautiful pictures. If you've got very young or sensitive children, just be warned that there is a very gruesome picture at the back wtih a cat eating a parakeet or something - blood and guts galore!
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on 21 March 2011
What a beautiful book for such a small price, arrived in excellent quality and has some fabulous photographs in as well as being extremely informative and educational.
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on 2 February 2014
It is a great book...well written and illustrated, and yet not too "technical". Good for amateur birders. I recommend it.
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on 31 December 2012
I recommend this book to anyone who wantsto know about birds, their flight patterns, breeding, and many other interesting facts.
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