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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 7 September 2016
I knew next to nothing about birds before reading Bird Sense, but this book has propelled me into a new avian universe and I am hooked. Every other page I had to stop and find someone to grab hold of and tell them what I had just read. Now I look upon birds with awe: at their capacity for seeing - like the kestrel that can pick out a 2mm grub at 18m - at smelling - the kiwi can sniff out worms 15cm below the ground - and most spectacularly - migration - the godwit, for example, which makes an 11,000km, non-stop flight, from Alaska to New Zealand. The book is beautifully written by a man who has spent most of his life intrigued and immersed in ornithology, and to whom I would like to say thank you, this is a work full of wonders.
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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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on 9 February 2013
A book about bird sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, magnetic sense and emotions - surely not my cup of tea?
But this one is. Absolutely fascinating. Not only is Tim Birkhead clearly an expert scientist and bird authority but he tells the story of each of the senses from the discoveries of ages past to current state of the art research.

And his descriptions and stories of the characters who observed and studied each of the senses gives the book a real depth. For example the larger than life character Audobon - the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and a servant girl who was born in Haiti in 1785. He made his living from bird illustrations and became a success with his art in Liverpool. He carried out exotic experiments on turkey vultures sense of smell. These led to Richard Owen in 1837 dissecting turkey vultures and revealing their trigeminal nerve to be particularly large - smell not sight was their major source of direction.

Some of the discoveries - like the very high pitched radar like sounds emitted and received by bats - came from tangential experience. Sir Hiram Maxim, after the sinking of the Titanic in 1921, developed very low frequency echo sounding to locate icebergs. He was the first to suggest that bats may use sounds inaudible to the human ear to navigate in total darkness, contradicting the conventional belief that bats navigated by touch . It was not until the 1940's that the bats echolocation system was confirmed.

Each sense is investigated in detail with different species relying to a greater or lesser extent on different senses: with owls, hearing, with gannets sight, with kiwis smell and touch, with the incubation of eggs tactile sensitivity.

The ingenuity of the observations and experiments is combined with cutting edge science involving brain imaging, fitting birds with GPS and touch and temperature sensors. It is probably the magnetic sense - how do migrant birds not just navigate but establish their position - and extent of emotional sense where controversy continues to rage most strongly.

This book must be the reference for the current state of knowledge on bird senses. But Birkhead concludes that the understanding of the human sensory system is advancing in leaps and bounds and the golden age of sensory research in birds is still to come. No doubt Birkhead himself will be in the vanguard. And I hope he writes a sequel to reveal the next discoveries in bird sensibility.
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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 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 18 January 2018
Wonderful quirky book..I heard Tim Birkhead talking about stuff in this book and had to buy it. It's so interesting, but written in a humourous way too.
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on 6 January 2013
As a keen birdwatcher I have often wondered about what goes on in a birds brain, and what it must be like to be constantly under threat of predation. This book has really helped me to understand the birds I love. How does the crow in my garden distinguish between the food I put out? Sometimes it looks the same, e.g fat & white bread. It must be the sense of smell that they use. What the book doesn't tell me is where a single bird flying, for miles over the countryside & over many of it's own kind, is going & why. But then I'm nosey or curious.

A wonderful book which I'm sure I will read time and again. I hope Tim Birkhead continues with his research & keeps us updated with more books
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on 30 April 2013
The book doesn't tell you what it's like to actually be a bird, as some seem to believe the subtitle promises. However, it clearly explains why this is not possible.

What the author does very well, is give details on how the different senses are used by various species to enhance their lives in an often unique way. For me the book was full of little details I could never have imagined and that will make me look at birds in a very different way from now on.

It's a fascinating subject matter with a lot of research work still to be done. I am looking forward to the advances in the field, and hope the author will be able to follow up this book with a sequel some day.
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on 4 December 2013
A un-put-downable read for certain! This is a fascinating insight into how birds go about their lives and I learned a great deal from it. When complex science is delved into the author relates it in an accessible way and doesn't bog the text down. The prose is never dry and everything flows well.

I am a fanatical birdwatcher and have already recommended this book to everyone I can. If you're into birds you won't be disappointed!
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