Birds and us


  • Birds and Us: A 12,000-Year History from Cave Art to Conservation by Tim Birkhead (Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2022).
  • 496 pages, 133 illustrations.
  • ISBN 9780691239927. Hbk, £25.
  • Bookshop from £23

The relationship between humans and birds is long and varied. Sadly, in many cases, this involves humans' exploitation or even abuse of our feathered friends, despite our collective fascination with birds extending back many thousands of years.

Tim Birkhead's brilliant Birds and Us touches on many of these often-unscrupulous relationships, with so many of the chapters referring to our use of birds for food, sport, medicine or simply decoration – usually involving the bird being unceremoniously killed in the process.

But don't let this put you off, for Birds and Us goes much deeper than simply a 'history of how we abused birds'. It explores our enchantment, respect and perhaps even jealousy for birds, from prehistoric cave drawings to modern conservation initiatives. It explores the attitudes of ancient civilisations towards birds, such as the Egyptians' vision of birds as a link between heaven and earth.

It delves into the origins of taxonomy, from the days of Aristotle and Pliny through to the Renaissance and the works of Francis Willughby and John Ray, how religion gave way to Darwinism, and how scientific study has evolved to the form it takes today.

This is a stunningly detailed book which cements Birkhead as a master of his subject. This is not light subject matter, and credit is due to the author for successfully bolting together succinct prose and scientific fact, which conveys his immense wealth of knowledge in clear and matter-of-fact style, bringing eye-opening trivia about our predecessors stretching back 12,000 years. It comes thoroughly recommended. 

Written by: Josh Jones

Josh Jones manages BirdGuides.com and is Editor of Birdwatch magazine. He is an avid birder and keen all-round naturalist. Follow him on Twitter: @jrmjones