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The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology Paperback – 7 Mar 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (7 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747598223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747598220
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 17.3 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 111,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'There are plenty of writers who have an understanding of natural science, and there are plenty of scientists who try to write. But there are precious few with the combined abilities of Professor Tim Birkhead. His instinct for the stories within ornithology and his gift for making technical matters accessible and simple are rare talents indeed' (Mark Cocker, naturalist and co-author of 'Birds Britannica')

'You would have to be bird-brained not to fall for this history of twitchers and naturalists ... Magnificent' (Sunday Telegraph)

'Wonderful ... [Birkhead] has a historian's grasp of our intellectual past, a storyteller's gift for fine, clear and deceptively simple prose and an instinctive sense of the tales that are worth recounting' (Guardian)

'One of the most entertaining, informative and enthusiastic accounts of the history of ornithology; and of the many different ways in which we have observed, studied and wondered about birds' (Daily Telegraph)

Review

`Tim Birkhead's wonderful book The Wisdom of Birds explores themes such as migration and almost every other facet of avian science.'
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Set in Linotype Goudy Old Style typeface (which was popular in the 1940s), this book feels as though it should be full of history - and it is. Chapters describe the growth of bird study during the last 500 years. The range of issues covers subjects such as egg development, instinct and intelligence, migration, the influence of daylight on the breeding cycle, territoriality, vocalisations, sexual differentiation, infidelity, reproduction and longevity.

Those who have already purchased either of the two recent books which both curiously sported the title A History of Ornithology might anticipate that nothing new will be learnt from this new book - but they'd be wrong. In their books Michael Walters (Christopher Helm 2003) and Peter Bircham (Collins 2008) focused on the individuals behind the development of ornithology while Tim Birkhead is more interested in what they discovered. However he makes an exception for John Ray, the 17th Century naturalist whose Ornithologia was better than anything than had gone before it.

Illustrated throughout with mainly colour illustrations from some of the world's most valuable bird books, this work contains many gems of information. For example in the chapter on birdsong we discover how German foresters used to train young Bullfinches to sing popular song tunes. Other fascinating facts include the example of Ulisse Aldrovandi who, in 1600, discovered that after having its head removed a bird could still vocalise! Perhaps more usefully we discover that Linnets can be trained to sing like Nightingales.

Flitting from discoveries by the likes of Charles Darwin and Francis Willughby to those of David Lack and John Krebs, this book is a real mixture of the facts that we all know already together with many that are hidden away in scientific papers that are rarely accessed. By bringing them together in one place Birkhead has produced an entertaining and topical book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a work of love, a work of science and a work of art. The author's knowledge of his subject is immense and his ability to communicate excellent. I am no scientist but found myself completely absorbed by the information contained about common as well as exotic birds. I learned more from this book than any other I have read on the subject and couldn't wait to progress to Bird Sense.
Special praise for the illustrations which are stunning, many from private collections which we would never otherwise have the chance to see.
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By therealus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 Feb. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Reviewing Martin Rudwick's Bursting the Limits of Time, about the early days of geology and palaeontology, I speculated as to the origins of another science, ornithology, hazarding that it similarly was based upon a wealth of local knowledge brought together and systemised by the protoscientists of the day, or savants, as Rudwick calls them. Tim Birkhead, in The Wisdom Of Birds, appears to confirm this premise.

Using as his starting point the 16th Century ornithologist John Ray, Birkhead describes how ornithology developed from folklore and superstition into a coherent science. Ray's own book, The Wisdom Of God, provides Birkhead's title, although it is knowledge rather than wisdom which is shown accumulating. As with the sciences dealt with by Rudwick, some knowledge originates from the museum, some from commerce (poultry farmers and hunters), some from what we may call hobbyists (bird keepers) and, eventually, from savants in the field, and like the early geologists, such ornithologists were considered strange birds indeed at first. Far better, some felt, to send a minion out to catch the birds and bring them into the museum than actually sully oneself doing it personally. There is an account of how Ray and his partner Willughby travelled Europe assembling their knowledge-base and library, as did the early geologists, and coincidentally a number of the other people namechecked include some mentioned by Rudwick, most notably the Comte de Buffon and Georges Cuvier.

The account commences, naturally, with the egg, and moves on through chapters dealing with bird intelligence, migration, breeding and territory, and birdsong and its significance.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Really readable. We are not twitchers but intrigued by the birds in our cottage garden. It explains so much in layman terms. A book that you can just settle down to read even if you know nothing about birds. Definitely a buy if you ever wonder why birds behave they way they do!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book tells what we (humans) have learned about birds over the centuries. It is an excellent and lucid examination of Man's wisdom, or sometimes lack of it. Tim Birkhead is an academic who can communicate brilliantly with the ordinary reader. From bird intelligence, migration, physiology to reproduction, the author covers a wide range of material. The illustrations also are terrific. A 'must have' book for all bird lovers with any wisdom at all!
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Format: Paperback
This is a fabulous book, well researched, brilliantly organised and very well written. It's a joy to read. Anyone with an interest in birds, or the history of scientific research, should read this. The book looks beautiful, too, and Tim has found superb illustrations.
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