| Bird Senses | How and What Birds See, Hear, Smell, Taste and Feel | by Professor Graham R Martin | Pelagic Publishing | 2020 | Paperback | 300 Pages | 100+ Colour Photos & Illustrations | ISBN: 9781784272166 | £29.99p |
The Publisher’s View:
Graham Martin takes the reader deep into the world of birds from a new perspective, with a ‘through birds’ eyes’ approach to ornithology that goes beyond the traditional habitat or ecological point of view. There is a lot more to a bird’s world than what it receives through its eyes. Bird Senses shows how all the senses complement each other to provide each species with a unique suite of information that guides their daily activities.
The senses of each bird, and the information that they provide, have been tuned through natural selection to solve the challenges of different environments and tasks: from spotting a carcass on a hillside, to pecking at minute insects, from catching fish in murky waters, to navigating around the globe.
The reader is also introduced to the challenges posed to birds by the obstacles with which humans have cluttered their worlds, from power lines to windowpanes. All of these challenges need explaining from the birds’ sensory perspectives so that effective mitigations can be put in place.
Bird Senses leads the reader through a wealth of diverse information that is made understandable through the use of over 100 colour illustrations and photographs, and accessible text. The result is a book that is highly readable for keen birdwatchers and naturalists, as well as more specialist readers.
The author has researched the senses of birds throughout a 50-year career in ornithology and sensory science. He has always attempted to understand birds from the perspective of how sensory information helps them adapt to a range of environments. He has published papers on more than 60 bird species, from Albatrosses and Penguins, Spoonbills and Kiwi. His first fascination was with owls and night-time, and owls have remained special to him throughout his career. He has collaborated and travelled widely, and pondered the diverse sensory challenges that birds face in the performance of different tasks in different habitats, from mudflats and murky waters, to forests, deserts and caves. In recent years he has focused on how understanding bird senses can help reduce the very high levels of bird mortality attributable to human artefacts, particularly wind turbines, power lines and gill nets.
Graham Martin established the Centre for Ornithology at the University of Birmingham and also ran and taught on extensive programmes in ornithology for Extramural Students throughout the West Midlands.
I usually read a book before giving a review. This is an exception because my aging brain has trouble retaining information unless I take my time. If I gobble up a scientific book as fast as I would eat a donut I get indigestion, or rather I simply don’t retain it. I say it’s my age, but it is also born of many years researching things for the books I write. I learnt long ago that the amusing or juicy facts I’ve researched are not filed for later use, as there are just too many, but rather acted upon then binned. People assume I must be an expert on eponyms as I have researched so many, but the sheer numbers would overwhelm and one biography merges with many others.
So, because I want to retain the knowledge I am taking my time, digesting each chapter and even re-reading bits. Don’t get me wrong, the prof has made sure he carries his largely layman audience along with him, he is an educator after all. The language is as plain as it can be, and where jargon is needed it is explained. Having said that, much of the book is about showing how birds perceive in ways that we do not so we have a bunch of concepts to grasp that enable us to understand, rather than just describe in our terms.
It’s not enough that we can describe the earth’s magnetic field, or an incredibly perceptive sense of smell. We need to appreciate that for the bird the sense is inbuilt and as much part of its behavioural context as is our own unconscious use of perceptual clues and cues which we are not even aware we are using.
Fortunately for the reader, useful analogies abound and the explanations given allow us, however briefly, to submerge into the sensory environment of birds, in their incredible diversity.
This is a book you will want on your shelves and may well revisit, so that next time you watch a city pigeon pecking up a tourist’s crumbs, you will marvel at how that bird’s use of its vision is driven by the need to put its beak where the food is, while at the same time being alert to the high-speed dive of a city peregrine. Our human, binocular vision, may give is depth, but will not warn us of the a predator arriving behind us.