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In What It's Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often. This special, large-format volume is geared as much to nonbirders as it is to the out-and-out obsessed, covering more than two hundred species and including more than 330 new illustrations by the author. While its focus is on familiar backyard birds- In What It's Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often. This special, large-format volume is geared as much to nonbirders as it is to the out-and-out obsessed, covering more than two hundred species and including more than 330 new illustrations by the author. While its focus is on familiar backyard birds--blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees--it also examines certain species that can be fairly easily observed, such as the seashore-dwelling Atlantic puffin. David Sibley's artwork and expertise bring observed behaviors vividly to life. (For most species, the primary illustration is reproduced life-sized.) And while the text is aimed at adults--including fascinating new scientific research on the myriad ways birds have adapted to environmental changes--it is nontechnical, making it the perfect occasion for parents and grandparents to share their love of birds with young children, who will delight in the big, full-color illustrations of birds in action.


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In What It's Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often. This special, large-format volume is geared as much to nonbirders as it is to the out-and-out obsessed, covering more than two hundred species and including more than 330 new illustrations by the author. While its focus is on familiar backyard birds- In What It's Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often. This special, large-format volume is geared as much to nonbirders as it is to the out-and-out obsessed, covering more than two hundred species and including more than 330 new illustrations by the author. While its focus is on familiar backyard birds--blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees--it also examines certain species that can be fairly easily observed, such as the seashore-dwelling Atlantic puffin. David Sibley's artwork and expertise bring observed behaviors vividly to life. (For most species, the primary illustration is reproduced life-sized.) And while the text is aimed at adults--including fascinating new scientific research on the myriad ways birds have adapted to environmental changes--it is nontechnical, making it the perfect occasion for parents and grandparents to share their love of birds with young children, who will delight in the big, full-color illustrations of birds in action.

30 review for What It's Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing, and Why

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    One of the best pieces of advice I know is to develop an interest in something absolutely mundane. This way, you will be able to entertain yourself virtually anywhere. Even the most seemingly obvious features of everyday life very often contain surprises for those who investigate. This is most true of our faithful companions, birds—a truly amazing bunch of animals that we encounter every day. If you would like an entrance to the avian world, you could do no better than this book. Very much a tome One of the best pieces of advice I know is to develop an interest in something absolutely mundane. This way, you will be able to entertain yourself virtually anywhere. Even the most seemingly obvious features of everyday life very often contain surprises for those who investigate. This is most true of our faithful companions, birds—a truly amazing bunch of animals that we encounter every day. If you would like an entrance to the avian world, you could do no better than this book. Very much a tome for the coffee table rather than a guide for the field, this hefty volume is a delightful combination of trivia and art. Though the book is apparently organized by bird species (mostly North American), in reality each species only serves to exemplify a wider point about birds—migration, feeding, skeletal structure, and so on. These miniature explanations are paired with quite lovely illustrations by Sibley, some life-sized (or roughly), and others diagrammatic. As a result, this book can be opened on any page and enjoyed. Unless you are a bird fanatic, chances are that you will learn quite a lot. For my part, I was astonished on every other page. I had no idea, for example, that birds could sleep with only half of their brain (literally with one eye open), or that some birds can sleep in the air. Herons and egrets have evolved a way of calculating the optical distortion of water, so that they do not miss when they hunt for fish. Eagles see with four separate focal points (two per eye), and cormorants and other water birds have evolved flexible lenses that can allow them to focus in the water and the air. But I should not spoil the book. As I hope you can see, though mundane, birds are anything but boring. This year I will do my best to continue learning. At the very least, birdwatching goes well with social distancing.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma Donoghue

    Wonderfully detailed science in the pleasurable body of a picturebook for adults.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    I was very disappointed by this book. I think my expectations were way off. I did not at all learn what it's like to be a bird. I read interviews with the author where he talked about how he has become convinced in the course of writing this book that birds have very sophisticated minds and make complex decisions. The interviews imparted a sense of wonder that made me think this book was going to delve deep into the minds of birds and help the reader understand bird behavior and cognition. That's I was very disappointed by this book. I think my expectations were way off. I did not at all learn what it's like to be a bird. I read interviews with the author where he talked about how he has become convinced in the course of writing this book that birds have very sophisticated minds and make complex decisions. The interviews imparted a sense of wonder that made me think this book was going to delve deep into the minds of birds and help the reader understand bird behavior and cognition. That's not at all what this book is. Instead, it's a lovely coffee table book full of beautiful illustrations and trivia. The information in the book is fascinating, but it is presented as a literal bullet-list of facts about birds. The organization of the book is very strange: the introduction is a list of what facts are discussed in the book, arranged by topic. Then, the main part of the book is arranged by bird species. Each species gets a few pages of bulleted text. Sometimes the information under each species is specific to that bird, and sometimes it isn't, which makes it really frustrating to try to learn either about a specific bird or about a specific topic. Then the last section of the book is again a list of species, with a paragraph of information about each species. The illustrations are beautiful. The facts are interesting, but basically random. This would be a lovely book to flip through to look at the pictures, or to pick up and read a few pages at a time, but it's very frustrating if your goal is to actually learn something coherent about birds.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Skye

    Lovely reference book. The illustrations and information is excellent. It would be perfection if it had included a much needed index and in my opinion a ribbon place holder.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    In the introduction, author David Allen Sibley encourages readers to browse the book and read the parts that interest them, and that's exactly what I did. Over a couple of weeks, I read through the parts about the birds that appear in my backyard most often---chickadees, titmice, cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays---and then moved on to less common birds. Lots of wonderful illustrations, and lots of fascinating facts. In the introduction, author David Allen Sibley encourages readers to browse the book and read the parts that interest them, and that's exactly what I did. Over a couple of weeks, I read through the parts about the birds that appear in my backyard most often---chickadees, titmice, cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays---and then moved on to less common birds. Lots of wonderful illustrations, and lots of fascinating facts.

  6. 5 out of 5

    High Plains Library District

    What a gorgeous book – Sibley has done it again! Unlike his field guides, this visually stunning book is a compendium of fascinating facts about birds. There are equally beautiful full-sized paintings – one per species that he discusses – with tidbits of information on the opposite page. There is still a lot that we don’t know about birds, and much that amazed me: • Pigeons have been trained to read mammograms as well as humans can • Eagles see four separate focal points, two on each side • Some spec What a gorgeous book – Sibley has done it again! Unlike his field guides, this visually stunning book is a compendium of fascinating facts about birds. There are equally beautiful full-sized paintings – one per species that he discusses – with tidbits of information on the opposite page. There is still a lot that we don’t know about birds, and much that amazed me: • Pigeons have been trained to read mammograms as well as humans can • Eagles see four separate focal points, two on each side • Some species of swifts stay in the air continuously for ten months of each year • Crows can recognize us and associate people with good and bad experiences, and then communicate that to other crows. • “There is no blue pigment in birds. The blue colors of the Eastern Bluebird and other species are produced by a structure that reflects blue light in all directions.” • “Hermit Thrush songs use pitches that are mathematically related by simple ratios, and follow the same harmonic series as human music.” This as a browsable reference book, richly detailed and informative. This is a section on “what to do if”: a bird hits a window, a live bird is in your house, etc. There are answers to questions such as – “Is my bird feeder making birds lazy?” In the end, Sibley makes clear the non-terrestrial nature of birds with eloquence and beauty. -Marjorie

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shevon Quijano

    What It's Like to Be a Bird is a lovely coffee table book for bird lovers or someone who just wants to learn more on the subject. I fall into the second category. The illustrations were beautiful and the facts were not overwhelming. I can say that I walked away from this book with more knowledge of and appreciation for birds! What It's Like to Be a Bird is a lovely coffee table book for bird lovers or someone who just wants to learn more on the subject. I fall into the second category. The illustrations were beautiful and the facts were not overwhelming. I can say that I walked away from this book with more knowledge of and appreciation for birds!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Vipassana

    Enjoyable coffee-table book about (mostly Northeast American) birds - their lives, behavior, physiology, and evolution. Highly recommend for amateur birders.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Very much a fancy-ass coffee table book, to browse a bit at a time... not what I wanted or expected, based on the title. I want the children's book that he admits in the intro. that he started to write, something smaller to the hand and less expensive, but at the same time more thorough. Also, I do already know a heck of lot that is in this book, just from paying attention to stuff over the last half century. It might help that I'm fan of books on animal cognition and that my parents are birders. Very much a fancy-ass coffee table book, to browse a bit at a time... not what I wanted or expected, based on the title. I want the children's book that he admits in the intro. that he started to write, something smaller to the hand and less expensive, but at the same time more thorough. Also, I do already know a heck of lot that is in this book, just from paying attention to stuff over the last half century. It might help that I'm fan of books on animal cognition and that my parents are birders... but... who needs to be told that the Canada Goose is seen as a suburban pest? I think many of the interested potential readers would be disappointed in how little they learn. Also it's North American (and mainly US) birds, too. Which is fine... but should be admitted up front. Dnf because library book with a due date. Not adding to wishlist. Recommending only to families with 'tween children who have already set out birdfeeders, belled, declawed, and neutered their cat, and bought field guide and binoculars. Iow, I don't think it serves well as a lure to get ppl interested in birding. Fyi, Sibley does advocate for feeding birds. There has been controversy about whether feeders would change the behavior of the birds and make their survival skills atrophy, etc., but he seems convinced that if we keep the feeder and ground clean, and feed them nutrient dense seeds, suet, etc. (not breadcrumbs), and take other precautions, we can help at least some species and individuals. Do the research yourself, paying attention to the quality of your source, and take into account your location... maybe contact your local DNR and/or Audubon chapter.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Satu

    It's a pretty book with lots of fun facts about birds. I guess I should be happy, but instead I'm quite disappointed. I find it totally off-topic. Instead of answering what it's like to be a bird it tells us what birds are like. I expected to learn about how birds see and perceive world and more about their behaviour. This was only very briefly touched in the Introduction, while most of the book was listing common spieces is North America. The facts were also quite a small titbits, mostly alread It's a pretty book with lots of fun facts about birds. I guess I should be happy, but instead I'm quite disappointed. I find it totally off-topic. Instead of answering what it's like to be a bird it tells us what birds are like. I expected to learn about how birds see and perceive world and more about their behaviour. This was only very briefly touched in the Introduction, while most of the book was listing common spieces is North America. The facts were also quite a small titbits, mostly already known to anyone interested in birds.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Bullet points The book is an enjoyable and quick read. I was hoping for more of a narrative flow rather than a disjointed series of bullet points—many of which have little to do with the species in question. Don’t get me wrong though—the drawings are lovely and there’s a ton of good info in this little book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marjorie Elwood

    What a gorgeous book – Sibley has done it again! Unlike his field guides, this visually stunning book is a compendium of fascinating facts about birds. There are equally beautiful full-sized paintings – one per species that he discusses – with tidbits of information on the opposite page. There is still a lot that we don’t know about birds, and much that amazed me: • Pigeons have been trained to read mammograms as well as humans can • Eagles see four separate focal points, two on each side • Some spec What a gorgeous book – Sibley has done it again! Unlike his field guides, this visually stunning book is a compendium of fascinating facts about birds. There are equally beautiful full-sized paintings – one per species that he discusses – with tidbits of information on the opposite page. There is still a lot that we don’t know about birds, and much that amazed me: • Pigeons have been trained to read mammograms as well as humans can • Eagles see four separate focal points, two on each side • Some species of swifts stay in the air continuously for ten months of each year • Crows can recognize us and associate people with good and bad experiences, and then communicate that to other crows. • “There is no blue pigment in birds. The blue colors of the Eastern Bluebird and other species are produced by a structure that reflects blue light in all directions.” • “Hermit Thrush songs use pitches that are mathematically related by simple ratios, and follow the same harmonic series as human music.” This as a browsable reference book, richly detailed and informative. This is a section on “what to do if”: a bird hits a window, a live bird is in your house, etc. There are answers to questions such as – “Is my bird feeder making birds lazy?” In the end, Sibley makes clear the non-terrestrial nature of birds with eloquence and beauty.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Not exactly a “book” it’s more like a huge collection of facts and bird illustrations, covering a lot of general information about birds as well as some specifics about 100 or so well-known species, most of which live in the US. Some of it reads like a (calmer gentler) version of Ripleys Believe It or Not. Not really a narrative there, but not really a reference book either.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is the best book on birds I have ever read. It’s not the book to identify every bird by its feathers, colors, and habitat; this is the book to learn how birds live, what they’re like, and why their lungs are designed for a world with 50% less oxygen. The bird drawings are life-size, which means in the case of a turkey, you just have a giant bird face staring at you. This book is also incredibly well organized. Information on one page never stands alone, it refers back to related pages - so i This is the best book on birds I have ever read. It’s not the book to identify every bird by its feathers, colors, and habitat; this is the book to learn how birds live, what they’re like, and why their lungs are designed for a world with 50% less oxygen. The bird drawings are life-size, which means in the case of a turkey, you just have a giant bird face staring at you. This book is also incredibly well organized. Information on one page never stands alone, it refers back to related pages - so if you read the book from front to back, you gain a nuanced understanding of bird biology. But it equally welcomes random exploration, with page references to guide you to the next fascinating fact - not to mention the FAQ-style “table of contents” in the front. This book is large: almost a coffee table book. I never before appreciated Sibley’s gift for explanation and illustration, but I sure do now.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Two Readers in Love

    From Barbara J. King's review on NPR.org "'A bird's experience is far richer, complex, and 'thoughtful' than I'd imagined.' This sentence on the first page of David Allen Sibley's What It's Like to Be a Bird is a stunner. A renowned author-illustrator of bird field guides, Sibley is a top bird expert. When he did research for this new volume, though, he became convinced of something he had not previously anticipated: Birds routinely make complex decisions and experience emotions." https://www.npr.o From Barbara J. King's review on NPR.org "'A bird's experience is far richer, complex, and 'thoughtful' than I'd imagined.' This sentence on the first page of David Allen Sibley's What It's Like to Be a Bird is a stunner. A renowned author-illustrator of bird field guides, Sibley is a top bird expert. When he did research for this new volume, though, he became convinced of something he had not previously anticipated: Birds routinely make complex decisions and experience emotions." https://www.npr.org/2020/04/19/837047...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I learned a LOT about the 100 common birds living in America detailed here. The artwork was superb and the layout of the book was perfect.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Stewart

    A beautiful picture book with tons of information about birds: everything from food to nest building and song.

  18. 4 out of 5

    scissortail

    This book is phenomenal. First off, it is just a beautiful object - large glossy pages, hard cover, vibrant inks. Sibley's stunning illustrations occupy entire pages, allowing the reader to fully take in their detail, precision and lush colours. It also includes some of his sketches, which deftly capture bird behaviors and postures as well as providing a glimpse into his artistic process. That alone would make the book worth reading, but there's more - this book is incredibly informative and wel This book is phenomenal. First off, it is just a beautiful object - large glossy pages, hard cover, vibrant inks. Sibley's stunning illustrations occupy entire pages, allowing the reader to fully take in their detail, precision and lush colours. It also includes some of his sketches, which deftly capture bird behaviors and postures as well as providing a glimpse into his artistic process. That alone would make the book worth reading, but there's more - this book is incredibly informative and well explained. It explores different ornithology concepts, many of which are quite technical, in accessible and concise terms. I am reading an ornithology textbook and turned to this book on multiple occasions to explain things (such as iridescence and feather structure) in simpler terms. It's grouped loosely together by bird species/ families, and alongside each group several key interesting facts are presented in an engaging format complete with illustrations and/or diagrams. It is not meant to be read as a textbook nor to be an exhaustive resource, which allows it more freedom to be fun. As Sibley says in the introduction, this book is meant to be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their prior knowledge of or interest in birds, and I think he has definitely succeeded in this aim. I recommend this book to any and everyone!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Well - good information, but I was disappointed in the artwork - not as accurate as I would have expected. Also disappointed in the constant references to evolution as if it were fact. Not facts when no one was there to observe - just claims.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bette

    Gorgeous pictures and compilation of facts. A book to browse, not read straight through. Not a narrative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily Graham

    This book feels more like Sibley's 101 favorite bird facts rather than something organized and focused. This book feels more like Sibley's 101 favorite bird facts rather than something organized and focused.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Shaffer

    This is the most confusing ebook layout I have ever encountered.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric Ellefson

    Meh. Lots of interesting facts about birds... but it just failed to deliver what the title promised.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Susan Emmet

    Wanted to finish this wonderful oversized coffee table book before reading Helen MacDonald's "Vesper Flights." I knew nothing about Sibley, am not even an amateur "birder," but I do feed birds in our yard - probably up to a dozen sorts during the winter, all of them found in this book. I know it's an anthropomorphic skew, but I do think of birds like people I've known. Their names will remain a secret. There is too much information for me to summarize here. Suffice it to say that although this boo Wanted to finish this wonderful oversized coffee table book before reading Helen MacDonald's "Vesper Flights." I knew nothing about Sibley, am not even an amateur "birder," but I do feed birds in our yard - probably up to a dozen sorts during the winter, all of them found in this book. I know it's an anthropomorphic skew, but I do think of birds like people I've known. Their names will remain a secret. There is too much information for me to summarize here. Suffice it to say that although this book is not really about what it's like to be a bird, it sure covers sizable territory in describing avian behavior, travel patterns, physiology, possible reasons for adaptation, nest building, egg laying, "child" care, imprinting, food sources and all sorts of other "stuff." Plus the illustrations by the author are lovely. The book weighs about 8 pounds so be sure the coffee table legs are strong.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    David Allen Sibley’s new book, What it’s Like to be a Bird, is a collection of short essays containing some of the more interesting facts about birds. In the book’s introduction, Sibley writes that in compiling his research, he became convinced that birds routinely make complex decisions and experience emotions. And if it was surprising to him, a renowned bird expert, then he realized it would be surprising to other people as well. To be called a “bird brain” is actually a compliment. Sibley cho David Allen Sibley’s new book, What it’s Like to be a Bird, is a collection of short essays containing some of the more interesting facts about birds. In the book’s introduction, Sibley writes that in compiling his research, he became convinced that birds routinely make complex decisions and experience emotions. And if it was surprising to him, a renowned bird expert, then he realized it would be surprising to other people as well. To be called a “bird brain” is actually a compliment. Sibley chose to focus on some of the more common North American species with each essay focusing on a particular detail of bird biology. Did you know that the placement of owls’ ears is asymmetrical with one angled up and the other down to improve their ability to locate sounds? Or that despite what the cartoon depicts, coyotes are faster than a roadrunner? The book is meant for browsing. Choose one of your favorite birds, the American robin or the Baltimore oriole and discover facts you probably never knew. And you’ll want to linger on each page to enjoy Sibley’s illustrations. Understand that this book is not meant to be a field guide, nor does it include every bird on the continent. But if you love birds, you'll love this book. Enjoy, jjthebackyardbirder.com

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stan Oleson

    I’ve enjoyed ‘birding’ ( in the sense of identifying birds I see) for well over 30 years now. Mr. Sibley’s bird identification books are my favorites. And after identifying birds as a hobby for a while, learning more about birds became very interesting to me as well. I haven’t approached this in a very systematic way. Neither have I read this book systematically. But I’ve really enjoyed dabbling here and there with it. I think I’ll be ‘reading’ What It’s Like To Be A Bird for a long time without I’ve enjoyed ‘birding’ ( in the sense of identifying birds I see) for well over 30 years now. Mr. Sibley’s bird identification books are my favorites. And after identifying birds as a hobby for a while, learning more about birds became very interesting to me as well. I haven’t approached this in a very systematic way. Neither have I read this book systematically. But I’ve really enjoyed dabbling here and there with it. I think I’ll be ‘reading’ What It’s Like To Be A Bird for a long time without really ‘completing’ it. But I decided to review it now. I’ve enjoyed my time with this book immensely. So 5 stars from me.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Diogenes

    This is a truly beautifully illustrated and incredibly informative book about our avian friends. Get it in hardback and place it next to your bird-feeder window. NPR agrees : ) (https://www.npr.org/2020/04/19/837047...), and of course the Audubon Society too (https://www.audubon.org/news/read-exc...). This is a truly beautifully illustrated and incredibly informative book about our avian friends. Get it in hardback and place it next to your bird-feeder window. NPR agrees : ) (https://www.npr.org/2020/04/19/837047...), and of course the Audubon Society too (https://www.audubon.org/news/read-exc...).

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bob Nolin

    A beautiful, fascinating book. A lot of interesting facts, based on new research. For instance, birds can see motion much better than we can, and if they could watch a movie, it would look like a series of single images flashing by. Now we know how they can fly through dense trees at high speed and not go splat. Highly recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anders

    Excellent illustrations and bird facts. Very accessible. Not a perfect birder guide nor exhaustive on particular birds or the science of birds, but it doesn't claim to be those things. Definitely a worthy and readable text with lots of bird info for all kinds of readers. And fun to share with others. Many sections can be read quickly. I learned a lot of cool stuff about birds :D Excellent illustrations and bird facts. Very accessible. Not a perfect birder guide nor exhaustive on particular birds or the science of birds, but it doesn't claim to be those things. Definitely a worthy and readable text with lots of bird info for all kinds of readers. And fun to share with others. Many sections can be read quickly. I learned a lot of cool stuff about birds :D

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    The gorgeous illustrations were the highlight of this primer on birds and bird biology. Although people familiar with the subject might find the text to be a little basic, and the topics linked with each group of birds felt somewhat random at times, it was such a beautiful book that I enjoyed it anyway.

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