Posted by: atowhee | September 3, 2012


BIRD SENSE By Tim Birkhead. Walker & Co. New York. 2012. 265 Pages.

I am reading this book right now and it’s full of fascinating stuff you’ll never get from a field guide or necessarily from birding. It summarizes the state of scienctific research into bird senses and behavior as it stands now. Birkhead is a British ornithologist and a clear, interesting writer. That can be a rare combo. Some quotes as a sample:

On eyes: “While the majority of birds have a single circular fovea–as we do–some, like hummingbirds, kingfishers and swallows, as well as raptors and shrikes, have two.”
The fovea is the intensely light-sensitive part of the retina that produces the clearest image. Two fovea allow predatory birds to see clearly at more than one focal length simultaneously.

“Among diurnal birds, those that become active soon after dawn have larger eyes than those that become active later after sunrise.”

“The kiwi…like those fish and amphibia that live in the perpetual darkness of caves, seems to have virtually given up vision in favour of its other senses.”
It has an acute sense of touch in its beak and great hearing.

Hearing: “Larger birds are also particularly sensitive to low-frequency sounds, and small birds more sensitive to high-frequency sounds.”
Birkhead then explains how this is directly related to the comparative anatomy of the various brids.

Birkhead explains and describes the large ear openings of owls and the function of their radical asymmetry in the bird’s acute hearing.

If you are interested in how birds live, this is a fine book to buy or borrow.


Here’s a link to summary of research being done on jays mourning the death of one of their own.

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