The Wisdom of Birds: An illustrated history of ornithology
Bloomsbury, $65 hb, 433 pp
If the history of ornithology seems esoteric, of interest only to specialists, this is the book to open your eyes. Tim Birkhead is an eminent field ornithologist and a gifted and passionate science communicator. Each of these elements shines from this book, a wonderful distillation of the vast ornithological literature that has accumulated over the past four centuries. Effectively a history of natural history, it is a delight to read.
Anyone interested in the natural world cannot help but notice birds. They are common, diverse, adaptable, colourful, noisy and mostly diurnal. Their ability to fly has been a source of wonder and envy for all humanity. These characteristics combine to make birds relatively easy to observe, identify and study. Consequently, more is known about the biology and ecology of birds than any other group of animals, and many of the major breakthroughs in biological understanding have come from the study of birds.