Reading “What It’s Like to Be a Bird” by David Sibley…

And liking it!

The hardcover version, that is.

I have the book on Kindle but there are a lot of links and I found myself getting lost. I recently picked up the hardcover book at my local, awesome bookseller, Bookshop Santa Cruz. (Support your local bookstores!)

The Introduction functions “as a sort of annotated index,” according to the author. It introduces tropics and include pages numbers to more information on the topic.

Following are some of the interesting things I learned that I had a photo of to illustrate with…

I read that “the crest of a jay or cardinal is simply feathers, and can be raised or lowered at will.” I remembered Great Blue Herons I’d seen with raised feathers on top of their head. I turned to page 147 to learn that raising the feathers can be a form of communicating excitation or aggression.

Great Blue Heron with neatly combed crest.
A Great Blue Heron with his crest raised as he hunts during low tide.

On the next page, I read, “On rare occasions, a bird will molt all of its head feathers at once, with no apparent negative effects.” (Except for the bald bird jokes it has to endure!)

Wow! I’d seen that on a Northern Cardinal in Provincetown! I turned to the entry for more information and the illustration was of a Northern Cardinal! I had been curious about the Cardinal I’d seen, but Sibley says “it’s still not clear why it [molting all head feathers] is triggered in some individuals.”

Northern Cardinal with a full head of feathers
Northern Cardinal doing its vulture imitation.

I read further.

“Many species have color patterns that suggest a face, presumably to deter predators…” I turned to the referenced page and found a drawing of an American Kestrel.


What do you think?

Female American Kestrel, perched on a post, looking behind.

Bird feathers vary with age and season. In a previous post, we saw that the male Mallards and Wood Ducks completely change their appearance.

Wood Ducks in various stages of plumage. Eclipse plumage is on the right; breeding plumage is on the left. The middle thinks everything is just right.

The eclipse plumage on a Mallard makes it hard to distinguish the male from the female. The color of the bill is the most reliable clue.

A male Mallard looking flirty. (Note his bill color.)
Male Mallard wearing eclipse plumage (still flirty, though!)
Female mallard in her usual attire. Note the different bill color between her and the eclipse male.

I am still in the introduction to the “What It’s Like to Be a Bird,” and I am thoroughly enjoying it–the hardcover version, that is. 😉

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