cover image Bird Sense: 
What It’s Like to Be a Bird

Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird

Tim Birkhead. Walker, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8027-7966-3

With clear gusto for his subject, animal behavior expert Birkhead (The Wisdom of Birds) breaks down what it might be like to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as a bird. Tracing the insights, clever experiments, and surprise contributions that have helped debunk myths about birds’ senses, he takes us to Caripe, Venezuela, where a Harvard undergrad discovered that the cave-dwelling guácharo can navigate in total darkness via echolocation, and introduces us to Betsy Bang, the amateur ornithologist who persuaded the scientific community in the 1960s that birds can smell. After walking us through the five familiar senses that birds share with humans, he also shows how they may be able to orient themselves by the earth’s magnetic field using magnetite crystals within their beaks or even by seeing the field, the way we might a cloud or a tree. And he considers less tangible feelings, too. Although little is known about birds’ emotions, Birkhead makes reasonable behavior-based guesses about what a bird might feel when glimpsing a predator, losing a skirmish with a rival, or reuniting with a mate. The well-organized book takes pains to explain any avian jargon, making for an uncomplicated, entertaining read perfect for birdwatchers and animal enthusiasts. Agent: Felicity Bryan, Felicity Bryan Associates (U.K.). (May)