Although I am interested in birds, I kept thinking while reading The Bird that science writer and zoologist Colin Tudge had not thought enough about who his audience was. The book is written in an accessible style for the general reader, but the level and amount of information is sometimes more suitable for a serious student.
For example, he spends several chapters on evolution in general, the evolution of birds, and the number of bird species. This information takes up the first 200 pages of the book, ending in a chapter of nearly 100 pages that describes each of the many species of bird. Who does he think is going to read and remember this? In particular, since most people have not even seen a tenth of these species, how can they visualize them from these descriptions? Pictures would be better, but all we get is an occasional line drawing.
Furthermore, he makes some notable mistakes in these first chapters. When he is discussing the evolution of bird species, he makes a comment referring to a figure. When I looked at the figure, I could find no correspondence between what he was saying about it and what it showed. Thinking that the reference was to a different figure, I looked at all of them, but still could not figure out what he was talking about. Later, in an even worse mistake, he refers to a figure that is not even in the book.
The second half of the book covers subjects such as what birds eat, where they live, how they mate, and what their familial and community relationships are. This is more interesting material, but it is still too exhaustive. We really probably don’t want to know the habits of every species of bird.
I also felt sometimes as if he gets too far off track in his musings. For example, in the chapter about the mind of the bird, he starts with a series of questions, and one of them is whether computers can think like humans. If there is some connection between that idea and the study of birds, he didn’t explain it well enough. It feels like a total nonsequitor, and this is not the only instance.
The final chapters are the most interesting. I enjoyed the descriptions of studies meant to demonstrate the intelligence of birds even though I had seen TV programs about most of the same studies. Mind, he doesn’t use the word “intelligence.” I do.
The book ends with a strong message about conservation that is probably the most important section.