Book review: Kaplan and Roger’s “Birds: Their habits and skills”

There is quite a difference between birdwatching and the study of avian or bird biology. While there is great overlap in principle, birdwatching is about finding birds and bird biology is about finding out how birds work, or what makes a bird tick by doing scientific experiments. “Birds: Their habits and skills” by Gisela Kaplan and Lesley J. Rogers is a book about bird biology that should be interesting to both the scientist who wishes to learn more about birds and the curious birdwatcher.

Written in an engaging and lively style and peppered with diagrams, this book is a tour through the basics of bird biology including their evolution, life cycle, senses, minds, and interaction with humans. It is filled with fascinating facts about birds (did you know that some birds can contract their left and right pupils to different sizes?), and yet it also weaves these into a cohesive story about how birds function and how they came to be.

Kaplan and Rogers’ book also is clearly infused with the personality of the authors. Gisela Kaplan is well-known Australian ornithologist, and as a result many examples are of Australian birds, which personally brought back many memories. After all, the majority of birds we have seen are Australian endemics. Lesley Rogers has done much research on chickens and this comes out especially in the chapter on birds and humans, as chickens are one of the most popular food sources for humans.

This book has a strong sense of scientific rigour. It has an extensive bibliography of primary literature explicitly cited for the research presented within. Therefore, as well as being a very fun book to read, it is also a very convenient starting point for researchers interested in birds. Of course, readers should keep in mind that this book was written in 2001, and hence some of the unanswered questions in this book have since been more thoroughly researched.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in birds or the natural world.

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