Deborah Blum is a Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist and author of popular science books, The Poisoner’s Handbook, Ghost Hunters, Love at Goon Park, Sex on the Brain, and The Monkey Wars. She has also published an e-book titled Angel Killer and her most recent work, The Poisoner’s Handbook, was adapted into a documentary film of the same name. Blum calls herself ‘a giant walking book brain’ as she works on her next book project exploring the history of food safety.
Until mid-2015 Blum was a Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in USA – the same university she had graduated from years ago. ‘It felt very strange to go back as a professor where I had been a student. Now I have been a professor there so long that it feels strange to go to another job,’ Blum says as she prepares for her new role as the Director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, for which she has big plans.
Written by an ornithologist, Bird Sense is a fascinating account of the senses that enable birds to carry out their day-to-day activities like feeding or avoiding predators. Author Tim Birkhead, who has studied zebra finches and common guillemots for most of his scientific career, has successfully hinted at what it’s like to be a bird. Every chapter in the book deals with one sense—seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell, magnetic sense and emotions—in birds as varied as owls and hummingbirds, making the science that goes into the discovery and understanding of the senses accessible to lay persons.
The book familiarises its readers with the amazing diversity of behavioural and anatomical adaptations that can be found in birds. A case in point is asymmetrical ears in some owl species that help owls locate the source of sound and find prey in the dark.
Bird Sense also informs its audience about the scientific process, suggesting how science builds on previous work. It talks about the debates and controversies some senses, such as those of smell and taste in birds, have sparked in the community of ornithologists. In author’s words, ‘For some inexplicable reason ornithologists have found it hard to accept that birds might have a sense of smell.’ Whether birds could have a sense of taste was debated for long, too. And even now, the idea of consciousness in birds remains controversial.