David Sibley is a renowned bird artist, so we would expect beautiful images of birds in his newest book. Indeed, his birds seem to fly off the pages in the life-like illustrations. These are not static birds appearing to pose for their pictures. We see them fly, swim, eat, sing, preen, court, feed young, and more. They are always doing something, so we can see what it’s like to be a bird.
My favorite images show birds living their lives. A male Northern Cardinal offers food to his mate. A Common Yellowthroat feeds a Brown Cowbird fledgling. To survive a snowstorm, Mourning Doves fluff their feathers and hunker down. The drawings illustrate key information. For instance, a Brown Pelican doesn’t use its pouch as a basket for carrying fish. Instead, Sibley, using both words and illustrations, clarifies its use as an underwater scoop to capture fish.
Using the latest ornithological research, Sibley also utilizes text to explain his illustrations. I wanted to know how a woodpecker extracts insects buried in the bark of a tree. The images and text show us a long, barbed tongue that can bend to reach into the crevices. When not in use, this exceptionally long tongue retracts to curve around the back of the bird’s brain. Then I became curious about the tongues of other birds. From the woodpecker page I was directed to information about hummingbird tongues. Thus, I become a curious traveler, following a trail of information through the book.
Sibley’s introduction aids the curiosity-driven navigation. All the brief illustrated essays are arranged into topics such as bird sight, sleep, growing new feathers, the digestive system, and many more. For instance, avoiding predators is a topic with 23 brief essays.
I plan to keep this book handy for regular use. It’s too big to take into the field or read in bed. Instead I’ll keep it next to the chair where I watch birds, referring to it when I have questions and then following the trail from one topic to another. I’ll discover gems of information and be impressed by the beauty, complexity, and richness of bird life.