Ornithology Since Darwin

Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin | By Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny & Bob Montgomerie | 568 Pages | 60 Black & White Photos | 94 Colour Illustrations | Princeton University Press | Hardback | 2014 | ISBN 9780691151977

The Publisher’s View: Ten Thousand Birds provides a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history of modern ornithology, tracing how the study of birds has been shaped by a succession of visionary and often-controversial personalities, and by the unique social and scientific contexts in which these extraordinary individuals worked. This beautifully illustrated book opens in the middle of the nineteenth century when ornithology was a museum-based discipline focused almost exclusively on the anatomy, taxonomy, and classification of dead birds.

Ten Thousand Birds describes how in the early 1900s pioneering individuals such as Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, and Julian Huxley recognized the importance of studying live birds in the field, and how this shift thrust ornithology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. Ten Thousand Birds tells the stories of eccentrics like Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a pathological liar who stole specimens from museums and quite likely murdered his wife, and describes the breathtaking insights and discoveries of ambitious and influential figures such as David Lack, Niko Tinbergen, Robert MacArthur, and others who through their studies of birds transformed entire fields of biology.

Ten Thousand Birds brings this history vividly to life through the work and achievements of those who advanced the field. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews, this fascinating book reveals how research on birds has contributed more to our understanding of animal biology than the study of just about any other group of organisms.

Other Views: “A first-class review not only of the recent history of ornithology but also of the key players involved. No other book of this type comes anywhere near this one in its breadth of coverage and depth of scholarship. Ten Thousand Birds is in a class by itself, and an outstanding read.”
– Ian Newton, author of The Migration Ecology of Birds

“This book fills an important and neglected niche. The mix of science, history, personality, and human interest is unique and one that people will find highly appealing. I found the prose not only engaging but downright riveting.”
– Walt Koenig, coeditor of Ecology and Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in Birds

“This is a hugely impressive book that synthesizes an enormous amount of information in a very accessible and engaging way, and makes an original contribution not only to the history of modern ornithology but also to the general history of biological science since Darwin. It will be an invaluable reference for general readers and students, and offers specialists a paradigmatic case study of the scientific method in action.”
– Jeremy Mynott, author of Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience

“This brilliant, wide-ranging book examines the debates, mistakes, and major conceptual breakthroughs that advanced our knowledge of avian biology. It documents how science proceeds, and skillfully humanizes it. Ten Thousand Birds is not only the best modern treatise on the history of ornithology. It is also a powerful summary of the remarkable biology of birds and what we still don’t know. This book is not just for ornithologists or serious birders.”
– Frank Gill, author of Ornithology

The Authors:
Tim Birkhead is professor of zoology at the University of Sheffield and a Fellow of the Royal Society. His books include The Wisdom of Birds and Bird Sense.
Jo Wimpenny was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sheffield during the writing of this book.
Bob Montgomerie is professor of biology at Queen’s University in Ontario.

Fatbirder View: This is a very large book with a huge amount to say and should be essential reading for all future students of ornithology. If, as a birder, you want to understand the milestones in ornithology then you need look no further than this work. I’ve already learned a great deal and I’ve only just read a couple of chapters so far. This is not one for skimming as what it has to say will underpin your knowledge and answer a lot of the questions that all birders ask afresh. ‘Hugely impressive’ it truly is and it deserves the widest audience.


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