WHO: David Allen Sibley
WHAT: WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BIRD
From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing —
What Birds Are Doing, and Why
WHEN: Published by Knopf April 16, 2020
WHERE: The author lives in Massachusetts.
WHY: “Most people would consider birdbrained an insult; David Sibley’s new book may change their minds…
“There are a lot of bird books that describe bird behavior as observed by humans (including the
Sibley Guides to Birds). The wonderfully unique thing about this book is that it examines clever avian behavior from the bird’s point of view.
“Focusing on frequent backyard visitors (nuthatches, blue jays, and chickadees) and other easily observable species (owls, roadrunners, ducks) this selective compendium provides full-color, life-sized illustrations accompanied by engagingly curious field notes on flight, foraging, nesting, walking, swimming, navigation, hearing, smell, taste, touch, vision, and vocalization. Jays, for example, will hide their food, but if they think another jay saw where it was hidden, they will return later and hide it in a safer spot. A robin’s nest building requires ‘thoughtful’ decisions about location, construction materials, and insulation. Crows not only have the ability to recognize humans by face and to associate people with good or bad experiences but also to communicate this intelligence to other crows.
“This title is enthusiastically recommended for both armchair birdwatchers and serious birders and is an excellent choice for public libraries, even those with shelves already brimming with bird guides.”
—Art Lichtenstein, in a starred review for BOOKLIST
“A fascinating work that fulfills its goal
to give readers some sense of what it’s like to be a bird.
“There are eye-opening facts on almost every page. Despite decades of studying these animals, Sibley was still surprised, while working on this book, to learn of the complexity of their lives, leading him to conclude that birds’ instincts arise, in part, from humanlike feelings, such as pride and anxiety — a position that he frankly concedes will be rejected by many as anthropomorphic. Nonetheless, even skeptics will emerge with a deeper appreciation of birds, and of what observable behaviors can reveal about animals’ lives.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Sibley successfully captures what many artists don’t.
“His sketches, schematic and masterfully suggestive, enhance the full-color illustrations. The backgrounds of buildings, vegetation, and scenery are also highly evocative. He has surveyed much of the world literature to inform his concise, vivid descriptions of bird behavior, biology, breeding, anatomy, plumage, and feeding. These complex attributes come alive thanks to his art and writing. The text layout is alluring, with several illustrated sections of each page’s text devoted to every species. Unusual aspects include a few anatomical diagrams and illustrations of predators carrying prey.” —Henry T. Armistead, in a starred review for LIBRARY JOURNAL
. . . . .
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
Birds are dinosaurs. Some dinosaurs grew feathers more than 160 million years ago and gave rise to true birds. The meteor impact 66 million years ago wiped out more than two-thirds of all terrestrial species on earth, including all dinosaurs and all but a few bird species. The general consensus is that there are about eleven thousand species of birds on earth today, and about eight hundred are found regularly in North America north of Mexico. These species are incredibly diverse, and a sampling of their remarkable adaptations and abilities are presented in this book.
The incredible diversity of birds is the product of millions of years of evolution. Evolution operates by selection on individual birds, similar to the way breeders of roses or dogs select the characteristics they want to enhance in future generations. In nature, mortal threats like disease, weather, predators, and others remove the “less fit” individuals from the population. At the same time, members of the opposite sex select characteristics that are appealing. All of this affects which individual birds survive and reproduce, which then influences the characteristics of the next generation. Over the course of hundreds of millions of generations, this process leads to the entire diversity of life on earth. Natural selection is mediated by survival, Darwin’s classic “survival of the fittest.” This leads to the wide range of bill shapes, wing shapes, nesting habits, and so on, as birds with the best adapted features are stronger and healthier, raise more young, and pass along their traits to more offspring. Sexual selection is driven by mate choice, as each sex selects a mate for particular features. This can lead to extravagant plumage, as we see in the male Wood Duck.
Knopf. 203 pages.
With 335 full-color illustrations
$35 ISBN 978-0-307-95789-4
To interview the author, contact:
Kathy Zuckerman | 212-572-2105 | firstname.lastname@example.org