| What Is A Bird | An Exploration of Anatomy, Physiology, Behavior, and Ecology | Edited by Tony D Williams | Princeton University Press| 2020 | Hardback | 368 Pages | 400 Colour Illustrations | ISBN: 9780691200163

The Publisher’s View:

Contributions by Scott McWilliams, Julia A. Clarke, Elizabeth MacDougall-Shackleton, Scott MacDougall-Shackleton, Frances Bonier, Chad Eliason, and Tony D. Williams

Covering the rich diversity of birdlife, this generously illustrated book takes a close look at their anatomy, morphology, and physiology that underlie their unique behaviour and ecology.

  • An absorbing and beautifully presented exploration of the natural history of birds
  • Integrates physiological adaptations with ecology and behavior
  • Features a wealth of color photographs and explanatory figures
  • Uses scanning electron microscope imagery to provide a rare close-up view of structures not normally visible
  • Provides insights into our complex relationship with birds, from our enduring fascination with them to the threats they face and the challenges of conservation

There are some 10,000 bird species in existence today, occupying every continent and virtually every habitat on Earth. The variety of bird species is truly astounding, from the tiny bee hummingbird to the large flightless ostrich, making birds one of the most diverse and successful animal groups on the planet. Taking you inside the extraordinary world of birds, What Is a Bird? explores all aspects of these remarkable creatures, providing an up-close look at their morphology, unique internal anatomy and physiology, fascinating and varied behavior, and ecology. It features hundreds of colour illustrations and draws on a broad range of examples, from the familiar backyard sparrow to the most exotic birds of paradise. A must-have book for birders and armchair naturalists, What Is a Bird? is a celebration of the rich complexity of bird life.

The Editor:

Tony D. Williams is professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University and a fellow of the American Ornithological Society. He is the author of Physiological Adaptations for Breeding in Birds (Princeton) and The Penguins.


Scott McWilliams is professor of wildlife ecology and physiology at the University of Rhode Island.

Julia A. Clarke is the John A. Wilson Professor in Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Elizabeth MacDougall-Shackleton is professor of biology at Western University in Ontario.

Scott MacDougall-Shackleton is chair of the Department of Psychology at Western University in Ontario.

Frances Bonier is a field biologist with a research focus on the ways animals respond to diverse challenges, including parasites, urbanization, and climate change.

Chad Eliason is a postdoctoral fellow at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

Fatbirder View:

A future classic!

When I was a lad I spent a long time in hospital and in recovery, unable to do much except read. I didn’t so much read as absorb by osmosis everything I could reach unaided or ask my long-suffering sister to pass to me. Everything from Superman Magazines to the entire cannon of H G Wells and Charles Dickens and all those lovely brown leather set of the classic novels. But, by far and away, my favourite book was a volume on dinosaurs almost too large for me to physically handle. It was lush with massive illustrations of Diplodocus and Stegosaurus et al. It was special and I was the envy of my friends.

This large, sumptuously illustrated book was certainly redolent of that experience. Like that volume, this covers in depth, creatures that I simply adore. Moreover, it teaches without patronising nor dumbing down and yet is very accessible. Unfamiliar terms are explained and, when simple language does the trick that is used. Clearly this educator is more interested in sharing than in self-glorification. And it’s all here from down to digestion, migration to magnetic sense… everything you need, want to know or love about birds.

If there is a young birder in your life, keen to do more than twitch or tog, this could be their career kickstarter!

Buy this book from NHBS