The Life of Birds

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Humans are fascinated by birds. Their color, variety, and behavior compels our attention. Their graceful shapes and ability to fly have made them symbols of the human spirit and aerodynamic models for human attempts at flight. Birds have evolved over 150 million years and have colonized all of the continents. They range in size from the smallest hummingbirds to the giant, flightless, now extinct moa. In The Life of Birds, British naturalist Sir David Attenborough presents a rich survey of the beauty, complexity, and variety of the world’s birds. He covers the topics of avian evolution, flight, song, behavior, food, reproduction, and future survival.

Much of The Life of Birds deals with the advantages of flight. The power of flight has enabled birds to colonize every part of the planet in ways unparalleled by any group of animals except insects. Flight makes it possible for birds to exploit seasonal variations in food and climate through migration. Many birds have evolved long and complex migration patterns, with bobolinks, snow geese and arctic terns making the longest flights.

Other than humans, few animals use their voices as eloquently as birds. But birds also communicate through plumage colors, displays, body movement, and nest building. Molting and shedding feathers allows birds to adjust their colors to seasonal habitat and climate variations. Birds have also exploited every conceivable food source, including seeds, insects, plants, nectar, fish, and meat.

Courtship and parenting show the greatest variation in bird behavior, however. Attenborough includes detailed descriptions and beautiful photographic illustrations of nest building, courtship, and parenting, with examples of bird behavior drawn from throughout the world. The Life of Birds offers a valuable companion to his BBC television series for all bird and nature lovers.