Day 761: The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live

Cover for The BirdAlthough 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.

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7 thoughts on “Day 761: The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live

  1. Naomi August 27, 2015 / 7:13 pm

    I got excited when I saw this book – it looks like it would be so interesting. I’m disappointed to hear that it’s not. It sounds like he was a bit overexcited about his subject and wanted to share everything he knows. Funny that someone didn’t hold him back a bit, or help him to focus. Of well – one good thing is that it’s a book I won’t feel like I should read. Thanks for reading it for me and letting me know. 🙂

    • whatmeread August 31, 2015 / 7:25 am

      It appears he may have written a similar book about another subject, at least judging from the introduction. I guess a book with lots of photos would have been more my speed.

  2. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock August 28, 2015 / 3:40 am

    That’s a shame. I love the idea of the book, but it sounds a little too much like hard work.

    • whatmeread August 31, 2015 / 7:25 am

      I definitely skipped the one chapter after I realized what he was doing.

  3. Carolyn O September 1, 2015 / 5:46 pm

    I fear birds, so I wasn’t planning on reading this one (do love nature docs about them, weirdly), but it sounds like there were some problems in the final copyedit. Yikes.

    • whatmeread September 2, 2015 / 8:13 am

      You know, I like birds, but when I look at some of them, like grackles (do you have those in Massachusetts?), I can see what you mean. They look exactly like dinosaurs. Their little heads are small and knobbly, their eyes look cruel. I’m sure that shivers are going down your spine right now.

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