What Is a Bird? An Exploration of Anatomy, Physiology, Behaviour and Ecology

what is a bird

Tony D. Williams
Princeton University Press, £30.00 (Hardback)

This is a stunning compendium of knowledge covering just about every aspect of a bird’s life. Successfully addressing the title, this book introduces us to an impressive breadth of factual information about an animal group that is astonishingly diverse and that has successfully colonised most of the planet’s habitats.

The many adaptations developed by birds to achieve such diversity are explored through the use of a vast range of examples and illustrated with hundreds of high-quality colour images. Broadly addressing four main areas, namely anatomy, physiology, behaviour and ecology, readers are presented with an in-depth review of the facts supported by relevant scientific studies.

The subsections are kept short with most being two pages in length so making it easy to access specific information rather than having to wade through lots of text, although a few, such as the sections on the body’s systems or the section on ‘feather care and moult’, are necessarily a little longer.

Indeed the overall presentation of this book is designed to appeal to the interested ‘birder’ or the keen naturalist rather than the professional scientist. The hard science has been kept in the background while the relevant detail has been written to appeal to the non-specialist, although with such a wealth of interesting, and sometimes unusual detail, it would be surprising if any reader did not find something of interest that was entirely new to them.

In many ways this book is an encyclopaedia of bird facts, but it comes across as much more than that and will undoubtedly enthuse those that explore its contents.

Dr Alan Woollhead