Life As A Bird

What it’s like to be a bird.  We’ll get inside the minds and senses of the creatures that fly.

The Green Violetear  (Mdf/Wikipedia)

The Green Violetear (Mdf/Wikipedia)

You know what it’s like to be you.  What’s it like to be a bird?  To fly.  To soar through the sky.  To live with the senses of a bird?  A robin, that can hear the moving bristles of a worm underground?  An eagle on the wing?  A great owl swooping toward its prey?  Philosophers debate what we can know of another person, let alone birds.

Ornithologist Tim Birkhead says we can know a lot.  About how birds see, hear, touch, taste, smell.  Maybe even how they feel.  We’d like to know, how they feel in full flight.  To fly like a bird.

This hour, On Point:  We’re stretching our wings and asking what it’s like to be a bird.

-Tom Ashbrook


Tim Birkhead, professor of behavior and evolution at the University of Sheffield. His new book is Bird Sense: What It’s Like To Be A Bird.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “The extremes of animal behavior can be a source of endless astonishment. Books have been written about insect sex. The antics of dogs and cats are sometimes hard to believe. And birds, those amazing birds: They build elaborate nests, learn lyrical songs, migrate impossibly long distances. But “Gifts of the Crow,” by John N. Marzluff and Tony Angell, includes a description of one behavior that even Aesop never imagined.”

The Guardian “The sight of two diminutive parrots sitting side by side and nibbling each other’s necks is enough of a cliche that we barely give it a second thought. Lovebirds, natives of Africa and Madagascar, are so named because their proximity and mutual preening resemble human affection. But what do lovebirds feel when they behave in that way? Indeed, do they feel anything at all?”

Canberra Times “With this book Tim Birkhead has confirmed himself as one of the best English language writers on the science of ornithology in the world today – at least, he’s my favourite. As professor of behavioural ecology at Sheffield University he is clearly qualified to write about his topic, but equally importantly he has an exquisite gift for telling stories of science that laypeople can be enthralled by. His previous book, The Wisdom of Birds, was a history of the study of birds from Aristotle to the present day, and was a remarkable achievement.”

Video: The Wisdom of Birds

Check out this book “trailer” from Tim Birkhead.


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