“Many Birds Literally Sleep With One Eye Open.”

I didn’t know that birds sleep with one eye open until I read What It’s Like To Be A Bird by David Allen Sibley. I received the ebook as a gift from my Dad. I call him whenever I see an interesting bird at my feeder or in the yard.

This field guide begins by reminding us that birds are dinosaurs.

While that fact wasn’t new to me, seeing it in this book under the heading, “the diversity of birds,” made me realize that I loved dinosaurs as a kid for the same reason I love birds now: there are so many! They come in all different shapes and sizes, they hail from all over the world, and there is so much to discover about them.

Sibley writes: “The general consensus is that there are about eleven thousand species of birds on earth today, and about eight hundred are found regularly in North America north of Mexico.”

This beautifully illustrated book includes many of my favorite backyard dinosaurs (I mean, birds)—chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches, juncos, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and hawks—and I enjoyed learning more about them.

I learned the answers to such burning questions as:

  •  Why don’t woodpeckers get concussions?

[They have adaptations that reduce impact]

  • How many feathers does a bird have?

[It depends, but small songbirds have about two thousand feathers]

  • What do birds do in a hurricane?

[They do what we do in storms: stock up on food!]

  • What’s the most common bird in North America?

[Apart from chicken, it’s the American robin]

  • And much more.

The book is a collection of amusing or interesting tidbits arranged in no particular order. There were times I wanted more context or information. How many birds sleep with one eye open? Which ones?

As the author admits, this book “barely scratches the surface” of bird science, but it’s a starting place with a recommendation to “follow the sources at the end of the book for more information.”

For me, it was the perfect book to pick up when I didn’t have the time or attention span to read anything meaty. When I have more time, I will look at the sources, which I’m sure will lead to other authorities on birds. I’m looking forward to it.

Guarding the veggie patch


  1. Ooh, this sounds so fun! I always enjoy reading about birds and would like to do more of it. My mom is a pretty serious birder and I’ve started learning from her as I’ve gotten into bird photography.

  2. Oh, I absolutely loved The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman. The first thing her book notes is that most bird studying doesn’t even happen in North America or Europe. It’s largely in Australia. Now I can’t remember why because I listened to the audiobook back in April or so.

  3. I’ve been taking lots of pictures of birds lately. They’re small and fast and present a challenge landscapes simply can’t. 🙂 After I got the Sigma 150-600mm lens, I was able to get much closer to my subjects without disturbing them. It’s a heavy lens (over five pounds!), but it’s really worth it. I finally got THE red-headed woodpecker shot I’ve always wanted, and yesterday I captured an eastern meadowlark at the top of a tree waaaaaaaay over there. I was thrilled.

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