What if people were birds?

zoologyWhat it's like to be a bird

"If I were a bird ..." - Yes, how about that? Tim Birkhead tries to answer this question in his book "The Senses of the Birds". The ornithologist from the University of Sheffield takes his readers on two journeys. Firstly, to the many locations of his research: to rocks in the middle of the sea, on which guillemots nestle their eggs, or in dark caves in Ecuador, in which the fat swallows only use their ears to orient themselves. At the same time, readers travel back in time with Birkhead, take a flight through the history of exploring the bird's senses. Because birds have always fascinated people, writes the biologist.

"We identify more strongly with birds than with any other animal group (apart from other primates and our domestic dogs), since the vast majority of bird species - although perhaps not the kiwi - rely primarily on the same senses as we do: sight and hearing."

However, this fascination has not prevented researchers from overlooking other bird senses until not so long ago or from deliberately ignoring their arrogance as the crown of creation. For a long time, birds were completely denied a sense of touch. Things are different today: In the meantime, researchers have found sensitive touch receptors even in the beaks of parrots. Another example: When ducks rummage through the mud while pounding underwater, they use tactile cells that are lined up like tiny teeth on the inside of their beak to separate the food from the dirt.

"Suppose there is a bowl of milk and muesli in front of you, to which a handful of fine gravel has been added. How well do you manage to swallow only the edible parts? Hopeless, I suspect, but that's exactly what the duck can do. "

"... the more likely it seems that birds actually have feelings"

The author tells a lot of such animal stories with a wow factor. And it shows the reader in easily understandable language the current state of research on seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and the magnetic sense of birds. It is now known that many birds are superior to humans in all of these sensory abilities. However, many still deny the animals any awareness and feelings. Probably wrongly, thinks the author.

"We have made great strides in the last 20 years, and the more we find out, the more likely it seems that birds actually have feelings. whose lives resemble ours in many ways - predominantly visually oriented, principally monogamous and highly social - we can come to a better understanding of ourselves.

Bird lovers who enjoy the history of science. The senses of the birds are as varied as the bird species. Unfortunately, scientists were far too narrow-minded for a long time to notice. Traveling around the world with the ornithologist is a real experience. The fact that the professor is sometimes afraid of embarrassing himself in front of students makes him sympathetic. It's just annoying that his publisher saved up on editing: the book contains a lot of annoying typing errors.

Tim Birkhead: "The senses of birds or: what it's like to be a bird"
Translated from the English by Monika Niehaus-Osterloh
Springer Spektrum Verlag
231 pages, 24.99 euros.