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on 1 March 2012
After 'The Wisdom of Birds' I thought that it would be very difficult for anyone to write anything quite so good about birds for a long time. I am pleased to say that I was totally wrong - its been done again, and by the same author! For anyone who has watched birds for any length of time it is not long before they start asking questions such as 'how do they do that?' or 'how can they sense that whereas I can't?'. Tim Birkhead deals with all these questions related to the senses, including magnetic sense and emotions. There is something on almost every page that even the most experienced amateur birdwatcher will not know or about which they will gain a greater understanding. It is so interesting that it is difficult to put down - a great page turner! The great strength of this book is that Tim explains things simply and clearly; he has made scientific knowledge available to all - a great gift! DaveK
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on 20 March 2017
You learn a lot about birds and their hidden talents and it is written in a scientific yet easy to understand style.
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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).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 September 2012
An easy to read, enjoyable, informative book.

I especially enjoyed the explanations of how birds hear and see differently from humans. For example it is mind stretching to contemplate how some birds can perceive some sounds which exists only for a short time span whereas humans can't.

For my taste there was a little too much 'history of science' in some of the chapters, where the author goes into considerable detail about particular experiments, successful or otherwise, from the past. I would have preferred to learn more about bird behaviour instead.

I felt that the final chapter on emotion was rather timid. It reads almost as if some anthropocentric big brother is standing over the author's shoulder, ready to render him unemployable if he strays too far. Still, the author's instincs are surely right, and it is a pity he does not feel more free to explore this aspect.

Recommended, but it could have been even better.
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on 10 February 2012
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Tim Birkhead's previous book `The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology', I was excited to see he had written a new book and it has finally been delivered by Amazon! A journey through all of the senses birds have, some we humans have also, but others unique to birds, `Bird Sense' offers an amazing view of the life of birds. In describing the senses of birds, Tim Birkhead also provides a fantastic insight into how scientists actually go about their work. He not only discusses what we know, but also many things we are as yet unsure of about birds. Other authors tend to skip over such unknowns, but here the author is happy to discuss them. In telling us about such wonders as Flamingos being able to know it has rained hundreds of miles away without seeing or hearing it, we really get a sense of how much of the world remains unknown to us. All in all, `Bird Sense' is an intriguing and enjoyable read, and with some wonderful illustrations, suitable not just for bird enthusiasts but for anyone with a general interest in wildlife.
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on 1 September 2012
Tim Birkenhead managed to find a topic that doesn't appear to have been covered in much detail before now and the idea of finding out what it is like to be a bird is certainly an intriguing one. The author examines each of the senses; seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell, as well as magnetic sense and emotions, through a combination of scientific data originating from both anatomical and behavioural studies and personal experience and anecdotes. The latter a result of his research into guillemots and zebra finches.
These anecdotes illustrate the author's obvious personal interest in the subject matter and makes the book much more readable than it otherwise might have been.
However, despite the general readable style I sometimes found myself wavering between wanting to know much more about a particular topic and a feeling that the author was labouring the point a bit and wishing he would move on already!
In summary though this is altogether a very readable book thatI would recommend to anyone interested in birds and their behaviour, but perhaps not to anyone wanting a lot of scientific detail. I did come away from he book feeling as though there were a lot of things that I hadn't previously considered about birds; both their physiology and their behaviour. I will also be looking through the extensive bibliography to find some other books that might provide further information about this interesting topic.
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on 13 March 2014
I've enjoyed birds ever since I was a child, since 1958 in fact when my grandfather's anthropomorphous characterisations of the birds visiting his garden amused and enthralled me. I'm a bird watcher rather than a "twitcher", or even a "birder", but I have also flirted at times with the notion that I could be an ornithologist. This book makes me wish I'd further developed my ornithological leanings. It's that rarest of things, a book about birds that is as gripping as the better fiction, and as illuminating as the better text books. I loved the way it combines an informed account of the development of the science of ornithology with an almost journalistic approach to the people and issues involved so that I felt an immediacy about the historical context, whilst learning eye-opening "facts" about the birds I enjoy so much. This is because Tim Birkhead's writing style finds a nice balance between the academic - the book is always just scientifically challenging enough to provoke the reader's interest - and the journalistic reporting of characters and events that render it at the same time entertaining. The knowledge it imparts so knowledgeably and entertainingly will certainly enhance any reader's enjoyment of the birds they encounter. As a layman with an interest in birds, I loved it.
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on 3 April 2012
This book is another feather in the cap for Tim Birkhead. He is one of a crop of a few writers who can write in this way. Very profound research, his and that of others, forms part of this book. The book is a must read for those seriously interested in birds. It is also a good book for anyone marginally interested in birds. Those who are not familiar with Professor Birkhead's works, should get The Wisdom of Birds alongside this book.
His flowing style of writing, infused with humour at times, but packed with valuable information, makes these books a real treasure trove.
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on 17 April 2013
This book is not just for those with an interest in birds but for all nature lovers because it really does reveal so many of the incredible ways in which birds function, allowing the reader to apply the insights to examples immediately in their own back garden. The senses are picked apart and although some of the examples refer to birds from foreign climes (the Oilbird is particularly fascinating), British birds get frequent mentions and it's now clear to me how a duck knows crumb from dirt when trawling the river in search of food. There is always a danger such a book gets bogged down in scientific jargon that alienates the reader but this one successfully engages to the end, the only frustration being that we do not know all of the answers yet....but then where is the fun in that.
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on 5 March 2015
I was personally a little disappointed ... I have only garden bird experience after a childhood never seeing any bird (except grandma's budgie......!) However...I felt I learnt very little which was new, even from just feeding birds....One woodpigeon can communicate by head movements, to shut the door if we have unthinkingly left it open when feeding the garden birds.....I guess because they know that is how cat predators emerge; magpies in the garden here, have occasional convincingly brutal and very safe, springtime boxing matches with other members of their mafia Magpie families maybe in confusion with the March Hares....! and have on one occasion organised a successful almost kamikazee attack from the same extended magpie family on a predatory cat next door - which had killed one of their chick offspring the day before - which certainly scared the cat indoors. So they can recognise and organise and terrorise? Scary stuff. Too human. At our local seaside, we beware scaring any seagull chick. However importunate or pesky, they live 35 years and remember...And there is ( anecdotal ) evidence they actually remember you, not just any old human.

Such things as the sense of smell, here based in an experiment by Bernice Wenzil described on p 148 re wood pigeons....we can also notice noticed this, by observation, and also of colour, one of the regular garden visitors here (avian!) is terrified by a grey mix sweater but not bright colours, and of sound - tones, and pigeons can judge from a wing style whether it is a hawk or gull above - like a well trained RAF pilot. Then take off to reach up to a hundred miles an hour, with no hesitation re direction.... Impressive. They also have a sense of taste - or the regular visitor we have had for five years certainly has. The book is nice easy read, so read it, but if we 'stand and stare ' without our human arrogance, we will learn a lot and become humble...And probably vegetarian!

We are not the only species with personality...we know this from our dogs and cats, of course! The Birds horror book and Hitchcock film is also instructive. I guess I had hoped for more formal science, but it us still a nice anecdotal relaxing read for bedtime or train journey.
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