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Monday, 30 March 2020

Tim Birkhead, Scientist, Ornithologist and Writer Extraordinaire

      During this period of enforced isolation, I am sure that we all have time to take stock of our surroundings, and take pleasure in our homes, and to examine and re-examine our treasures. And so it is, that I have been poring through my books anew, rediscovering treasured texts, re-informing myself, dallying over especially well-written pieces, and refreshing my knowledge. Forgotten details are studied as though seen for the first time.
     There are so many tremendously good books on my shelves, and they are
without question a great source of joy to me every day, and they are frequently consulted and re-consulted, read and re-read. It is very difficult to rank authors of ornithological and natural history texts in the way that one is able to allocate preference to fiction writers, but I am quite sure that Tim Birkhead, an esteemed favourite son of England, is my first choice.
     I am presenting below, with a brief synopsis of each one, the books by this author that I own. 

Sperm Competition and Sexual Selection



      This is the very first Birkhead book that I purchased, way back in June 1999. It provides a comprehensive overview of the competition between gametes for successful fertilization, which lies at the heart of the evolutionary process. Many different organisms are covered. As you might imagine, the section on avian reproduction has been consulted most frequently!

The Red Canary


      
    This book won the Consul Cremer prize. It is popular science at its very best - a perfect blend of exactness and superb entertainment - Mark Cocker. For naturalist and non-naturalist alike, a great read.

The Survival Factor



      I know Mike Birkhead only as a producer of wildlife documentaries, mainly for the BBC, and as far as I know he is not related to Tim Birkhead. Based on the Darwinian principles of natural selection, this book examines the strategies and adaptations employed by different creatures to assure their own existence and to perpetuate their species.

The Wisdom of Birds



     If you have never heard of John Ray, this is an essential read. If you have heard of John Ray, this is an essential read! A tremendous discussion of the concepts of avian territoriality, clutch size, mating strategies, and much more, with reference to many of the seminal figures of ornithology.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ornithology



     Comprehensive review of every aspect of the life of birds. Written in easy to understand language, suitable for students at any level, yet unerringly delivering the technical knowledge needed to become proficient in the study of birds.

Ten Thousand Birds - Ornithology Since Darwin
     


     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

The Most Perfect Thing - Inside and Outside a Bird's Egg



     Birkhead has written the perfect book about the perfect thing, where his breadth of knowledge of avian reproduction is exhibited to the fullest, and his enthusiasm is no less on display. For bird lover and general reader alike a compelling volume.

The Magpies 



     A detailed and comprehensive monograph of Black-billed and Yellow-billed Magpies. Essential reading for anyone interesting in the life histories of these frequently misunderstood and often maligned corvids.

     Tim Birkhead is that rare combination of scientist and writer, where both skills are brought together without one dominating the other. He is able to write clearly, concisely, and interestingly, while not watering down one scintilla of the often complex ideas presented, in a manner that everyone can read, and in such a fashion that one simultaneously acquires knowledge and derives great satisfaction from the written word.

39 comments:

  1. I read his book "Bird Sense" a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It may be time I read another book by him. There certainly seem to be quite a variety to choose from. Thanks for your recommendations.

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    1. Ironically, I don't have "Bird Sense" and that is the book that sealed his reputation, I believe. I suspect it is out of print now, so I will have to keep my eyes open in second hand bookstores and the like, whenever they open again that is,

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  2. You have a wonderful selection of bird books, many more than most libraries, well done. Favourite books are always like old friends. Stay safe, Valerie 🌝☕😁

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    1. Did you notice the little birds in the first picture?

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  3. I don't have any of his books, David, but fortunately have plenty of reading matter stacked up waiting to be read, including a couple that are currently in 'quarantine'. However, I seem to be busier than ever, now that we're in lockdown, so not much chance of boredom for a while yet. I hope that all is well with you both. Take great care - - - Richard

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  4. I should gladly have read the book about Magpies. They are very misunderstood here too, David. I let them stay here in my garden, and they do no harm here. My neigbour shoots them, and in their yard they do a lot of damage. It's not so strange...I think they are smart enough to know where they can be. Here I have a lot of them.

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    1. They are very intelligent birds, Marit, and I am glad that you enjoy them.

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  5. It's nice to have a collection of books by an author you enjoy.

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  6. Hello, thanks for sharing all of these Tim Birkhead books. You do have a great book collection. Wishing you a happy and a healthy new week!

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  7. The award-winning book also has a moving cover.

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  8. Huge thanks for these recommendations. So many books, so little time. I will never be able to read them all (but hope to die trying).

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  9. Wow, quite a collection. I am hardly reading at all now, just seems to be too much to do!! Stay safe and take care Diane

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  10. Una buena colección nos presentas amigo David, por desgracia no he leído ninguno de ellos, las aves debo reconocer que aun gustándome no son mi fuerte. En mi época de joven tuve una etapa que criaba canarios y conseguí muy buenas crías, entonces, si me aficione a la lectura sobre los canarios pero eso dista mucho de los libros que tu nos presentas, y que seguro por tus comentarios son muy buenos.
    Un fuerte abrazo querido amigo y compadre David. ¡¡Cuidaros!!

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  11. You do have a selection of bird books don't you. I love the pictures of birds but have never really made any kind of study. Pity really.

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  12. Books bring me many hours of joy and contentment, too. The one about bird eggs, inside and out looks interesting to me. I bet one of your grandchildren made the cute paper birds in the first photo just for you!

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    1. Actually it was a fellow blogger who sent the birds.

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  13. Vous avez beaucoup de livres sur les oiseaux!L'autre jour j'ai vu, et entendu, des pies qui semblaient se chamailler, elles était 4, peut-être deux couples. Ça a duré un bon moment.
    Bonne soirée

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  14. What a wonderful selection!
    My eyes are giving me such trouble. I love reading so much.

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  15. P.S. I love the egg book. That would be fun for my grandies. I spent an hour with my grandie the other day, on the front porch, bird watching. It was wonderful.
    P.P.S. I heard spring peepers the other day. I was so happy.

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  16. So glad to hear you have plenty of great books to keep you occupied. I think you have the best way ever of keeping busy while isolated :))

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  17. Some collection, amazing. Notting like a good book to help you trough difficalt times. Lets hope time will pass more quickly so we can go out again to see the birds in nature. Take care David.
    Regards,
    Roos

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    1. I still go out every day, Roos. We are not in total lockdown and I can easily find places where I hardly ever see another person. Ironically, yesterday I ran into two naturalists friends, and we birded together, staying two metres apart from each other, and it was wonderful to have some company again.

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  18. So many books and each loved as much as the other, it's pleasing you get great joy out of them too.
    Take care and be safe.

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  19. My goodness so many books, a bit like myself although mine are mostly craft books. Books are certainly a comfort in this current situation. Take care.

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  20. Wow you have so many good books!I wish to have the wisedom of birds, the eggbook and the magpie book!The magpies are soo clever!I have a couple in my tree beside my balcony and they are nesting now..so nice to see :)It is good to reread old books, I do the same thing,we have so good time now..I am soo happy to have a big book shelf of all kind of books

    Wish you and Family all good and continue showing us great books:)))

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  21. That's an impressive collection and an impressive output by one author. Ten Thousand Birds was a wonderful and readable review of the world of birds and of many who study them.

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  22. Querido David muchas gracias por tan buenas recomendaciones, las tendré en cuenta. Muchas gracias por tu apoyo y tu cariño. Ciertamente en España lo estamos pasando muy mal y con mucha preocupación, yo sobre todo por mi hijo que vive en Madrid, aquí en Asturias es un poco más fácil. Estamos todos bien qué es lo importante. Un fuerte abrazo para ti y para Miriam.

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  23. Lovely to see your books.
    In these current circumstances many of us are turning even more to books - so enjoyable.

    Stay safe and well.

    All the best Jan

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  24. Muy interesantes tus libros querido amigo, me encantan los libros de aves. Una de mis hijas me regaló uno en Navidad. Abrazos y salud.

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  25. I understand from your latest posts that you too are affected by the virus. We do not hear much about Canada in Europe and Denmark. I stay in my house and garden and only take a walk from time to time along the seaside.
    Bird watching and book reading are good things to do.
    For me it is a good thing to enjoy your beautiful photos.
    Take care.
    Lisbeth

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  26. Isn't it wonderful to find an author who not only has the knowledge of his subject but the ability to write about it in a way that captures your mind and perhaps even your imagination? They all look like beautiful books. The Red Canary sounds especially intriguing to me but I suspect as a bird lover and one who seeks them out, they all are for you!

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  27. They are a special, a book of the world, beauty.

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  28. Oh, el maravilloso mundo de las aves. Avecillas que nos cantan al albor :)
    Greetings!

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  29. Hi David – love these reviews of Tim Birkhead’s excellent books … I bought and read his ‘The Most Perfect Thing’ about birds eggs – loved it, sadly left it in Canada.

    Ray has always fascinated me … he wrote in Latin – so his works must be pretty profound – therefore I’d love to read Tim’s book on him: Wisdom of Birds … very expensive, so a library order …

    I see there’s a TED talk – which I must take a look at … thanks for this comprehensive coverage about his books … you are so right about his abilities as scientist-writer … he does do both really well. Take care - Hilary

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  30. Hello David,
    yes, we now have to spend more time at home and that indeed gives chances to take a closer look at your house :-) You really have a lot of books and reference works and that is really great. These books enrich your knowledge of the flora and fauna in our nature around the world. You show a beautiful collection :-)))
    A big hug from the Netherlands xo

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  31. Incredible prolificity of that author, he wrote on various topics, he must have to know a lot to publish so much and so diverse. I like the books you have, some I have in English, others translated; especially I like the Birds of the World Handbooks by Lynx editions, here they are very expensive and not very affordable. Another theme is that although there are a variety of bird books, there are not so many in Spanish to get especially from South America, which is what interests me the most; some I have in English but I'm not so comfortable because I need to know a little more about it.

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    1. They are expensive here too, Hernán. I only have five of the seventeen volumes.

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