The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology

Author(s): Tim Birkhead


For thousands of years people have been fascinated by birds, and today that fascination is still growing. In 2007 bird-watching is one of the most popular pastimes, not just in Britain, but throughout the world, and the range of interest runs from the specialist to the beginner. In The Wisdom of Birds, Birkhead takes the reader on a journey that not only tells us about the extraordinary lives of birds - from conception and egg, through territory and song, to migration and fully fledged breeder - but also shows how, over centuries, we have overcome superstition and untested 'truths' to know what we know, and how recent some of that knowledge is. It was only in the nineteenth century that the ancient belief that swallows hibernated under water (!) finally gave way to general acceptance of the facts of migration. In the same century of dazzling experimental science, even Darwin chose not to dwell on the sexual promiscuity of female birds to spare the blushes of his daughter, who was helping to correct the proofs of The Descent of Man. Conceived for a general audience, and illustrated throughout with more than 100 exquisitely beautiful illustrations, many of them rarely, if ever, seen before, The Wisdom of Birds is a book full of stories, knowledge and unexpected revelations.


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The first illustrated history of birds for the general reader The RSPB has over one million members, including nearly 150,000 youth members More than 300,000 people complete BBC Radio 4's Today Programme annual garden birds survey

'There are plenty of writers who have an understanding of natural science, and there are plenty of scientists who try to write. But there are precious few with the combined abilities of Professor Tim Birkhead. His instinct for the stories within ornithology and his gift for making technical matters accessible and simple are rare talents indeed' Mark Cocker, naturalist and co-author of 'Birds Britannica' 'You would have to be bird-brained not to fall for this history of twitchers and naturalists ... Magnificent' Sunday Telegraph 'Wonderful ... [Birkhead] has a historian's grasp of our intellectual past, a storyteller's gift for fine, clear and deceptively simple prose and an instinctive sense of the tales that are worth recounting' Guardian 'One of the most entertaining, informative and enthusiastic accounts of the history of ornithology; and of the many different ways in which we have observed, studied and wondered about birds' Daily Telegraph

Tim Birkhead is a professor at the University of Sheffield where he teaches animal behaviour and the history of science. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and his research has taken him all over the world in the quest to understand the lives of birds. He has written for The Independent, New Scientist, BBC Wildlife. Among his other books are Promiscuity, Great Auk Islands, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Birds which won the McColvin medal and The Red Canary which won the Consul Cremer Prize. He is married with three children and lives in Sheffield.

General Fields

  • : 9780747598220
  • : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • : February 2011
  • : 234mm X 178mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : May 2011
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Tim Birkhead
  • : Paperback
  • : 1
  • : 598
  • : 448
  • : Colour