With new book, Sibley does it again

With new book, Sibley does it again
Bruce Glick

“What It’s Like to Be a Bird” is the title of David Sibley’s new book.


David Sibley does it again.

“The Sibley Guide to Birds” was published in 2000 and revolutionized the world of field guides. The second edition came out in 2014. Over 2 million copies have been sold, quite a feat for a bird book. So what now? Not the third edition of the field guide, but rather a new book about birds that is not only for birders, but also for anyone who has ever looked at a bird and wondered.

Sibley himself confesses that when he started doing research for this book, he was amazed at how much he didn’t know.

“What It’s Like to Be a Bird” is the title of Sibley’s new book. It has a long subtitle: “From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing — What Birds Are Doing and Why.” The book was published in mid- April, just in time for the millions of people who are trying to spend more time outside during the pandemic. Articles have been written about the increasing number of people who are interested in birding, some for the first time and others who are now more serious about a hobby that had been on the back burner.

Sibley starts out the book with this sentence: “A bird’s experience is far richer, complex and thoughtful than I’d imagined. And if that was news to me after a lifetime of watching birds, it must be surprising to other people as well.”

As he worked on the book, Sibley became convinced birds make complex decisions and that they experience emotions. Barbara King wrote an interesting review of the book in mid-April. She said Sibley’s main aim is to ignite appreciation of the birds we encounter in our backyards and nearby parks.

Around 2002 Sibley started working on an idea for a children’s book about familiar birds. He got busy with other projects but worked on it again around 2009, but most of the work was done from 2016-19. His idea was to research answers to 300 or so questions. Many of these were questions that had been asked by friends, neighbors or people he met in his travels. Answers to the questions evolved from research from a wide variety of resources. Pulling together all the information for each question resulted in what we find in this book.

Some of the new information Sibley learned included the following: feathers are waterproof because of their structure (not because of preen oil), birds balance while they sleep (their toes don’t automatically tighten on the perch), and while pigeons always seem to bob their heads when walking, they don’t bob their heads when walking on a treadmill.

Unlike field guides, this book uses a larger format, which is wonderful for looking at the artwork, always the focus of a Sibley book. In that sense it is like a children’s book: easy to pick up and browse through or to read a page or two at a time. Hopefully, the book will help readers see birds in the backyard — or anywhere — in a new way.

As all of us who have been birding for a day or a lifetime know, there is always so much more to learn. Sibley’s new book is a welcome step on that journey.

Stay well and good birding.

Email Bruce Glick at bglick2@gmail.com.

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