7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Beneath the Feathers,
This review is from: Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird (Hardcover)
Bird Sense is a crash course in bird biology and behavior. The text is only a little over 200 pages, but avian biologist Tim Birkhead wastes no time or space. The subtitle is What It's Like to Be a Bird and while there's no way for us to experience being birds, we get a lot closer to knowing what's going on underneath all those feathers.
Birkhead approaches the bird from each of the five traditional senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell) and adds magnetic sense and emotion for good measure. Magnetic sense is a bird's sense of direction, based on the earth's magnetic field. Birds can determine where they are and where their destination is from it. Humans don't have this sense, so it is especially hard for us to understand exactly how birds experience it.
On the other hand, humans experience emotion in abundance and it's difficult for us to imagine that birds don't suffer pain or feel joy as we do. Science has no definitive answer yet. But it underscores what is a problem for scientists - that as human beings, we are unavoidably biased when studying the biology of other animals. It's difficult, if not impossible to exclude our own experience of hearing, etc. when exploring the experiences of others.
Another of the themes of Bird Sense is that the amount we don't yet know about birds is overwhelmingly larger than what we do know. Birkhead refers to the growing and changing accumulation of knowledge as the "truth-for-now" nature of science.
In fact, Bird Sense is as much about the nature and the history of science as it is about birds specifically. We learn what naturalists thought about bird vision, etc. through history and how we've come to think what we do now. It's just as interesting finding out about the process of learning as it is to learn what the current thinking is.
Birkhead's style is to write simply, without excess jargon, explaining scientific facts along the way to an intelligent, but non-science-oriented reader. As a reader with an embarrassingly limited scientific background, I found Bird Sense an engaging and informative book. Add to this book the excellent David Attenborough TV series The Life of Birds (and skip the hopelessly uninformative PBS Nature episode A Murder of Crows).