Author: Wenfei Tong
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing (in Australia and New Zealand, Rest of World via Unipress books)
Hardback: 224 pages
How Birds Behave seems to cover just about everything known about why birds do the things that they do, all within 215 pages. Summarising many scientific discoveries about birds, both old and recent, it covers all facets of bird life including feeding, socialising, courtship, raising young and avoiding predators. Each turn of the page also reveals beautiful photos and water colour paintings of birds from around the world that help illustrate the behaviours being discussed.
The science is simplified for the layperson and often somewhat anthropomorphised – for example replacing the scientific term “extra-pair copulations” with “extra-marital affairs” or “divorce”. For this reason, it is not a book for the technical expert, but rather for the enthusiastic amateur birder. Most examples are from studies of American and European species, with only a few well-studied Australian birds (like magpies, fairy wrens and zebra finches) getting a mention. But while you might not find out about our local birds specifically, it is easy to imagine similar behaviours being displayed by Australian species.
Each new piece of information leads neatly into the next, creating smooth transitions between the many facts. However, with so much information crammed in there is no space to fully explore how this knowledge has been acquired. I felt sorry for the birds reading about the myriad of ways in which their behaviour has been manipulated by scientists, and that is even with the background knowledge of the kinds of ethics controls these studies have and the love that the biologists would have had for their subjects. The fact-heavy approach can become a bit dry and the facts can get lost amongst one another. As such, this book is perhaps best enjoyed a few pages at a time rather than churning through the chapters over a longer sitting.
This is a book for bird lovers looking for an insight into the behaviours they may have noticed in the field. The book also ends by discussing how climate change and other human activities are affecting bird behaviours, serving as a reminder that we need to continue to conserve and protect our feathered friends so that we can continue to enjoy their antics for many years to come.