What It’s Like To Be A Bird — Professor Tim Birkhead – 11th November 2013.

Hearty con­grat­u­la­tions to our speaker find­ers for allow­ing Stumperlowe Probus to enjoy what was cer­tainly a lec­ture of out­stand­ing merit.  Professor Birkhead’s orni­tho­lo­gical know­ledge and aptitude for trans­mit­ting fas­cin­at­ing facts to his audi­ence were imme­di­ately appar­ent. One could, at once, appre­ci­ate why he has been able to write over twenty best-selling books on the sub­ject of bird­life. He dis­played, with tre­mend­ous aplomb, an enthu­si­asm for his sub­ject and a rarely-seen abil­ity to effort­lessly enter­tain us with his seem­ingly infin­ite grasp of what makes birds tick.

 The theme of Tim’s dis­course was to dis­play how birds differ from humans in their habits and life­styles. Starting on a remote island in the Irish Sea, we learned of the abil­ity of the female Guillemot to recog­nise her return­ing part­ner from a dis­tance of 700 m and sur­roun­ded by count­less other, to us, identical birds – even when close up, we couldn’t tell one from the other.

 Next, we were told of the Blue Tit’s aptitude to see in the ultra­vi­olet spec­trum and, by so doing, to hunt out poten­tial insect food. Owls and other pred­at­ory spe­cies have phe­nom­enal aud­it­ory powers to fur­ther their stalk­ing suc­cess. Kiwis have poor vision, but good hear­ing and a very great sense of smell, which enables them to locate and  unearth buried food without any pre­lim­in­ary prob­ing.

 Professor Birkhead then showed us how ducks are able to taste and touch by means of minute recept­ors behind the edge of their beaks, which they use to judge what to eat. Flamingos in South West Africa can sense when the rains have arrived in Etosha Pan, about 200 miles away and will migrate  there , but only fol­low­ing a spe­cific amount of rain­fall. Some Vultures hunt by sight when flying over open ter­rain, but others use their sense of smell to scav­enge  whilst hov­er­ing over dense forests.

 At the end of all this won­der­ful enlight­en­ment, we were cer­tain that the term, “Bird Brain” was any­thing but a cor­rect descrip­tion of a human dunce! In many ways birds can show humans a thing or two, and thou­sands of years will pass before we evolve to their state of ingenu­ity!

 Professor Tim Birkhead was named as UK Bioteacher of the Year by the UK Society of Biology , in honor of his three dec­ades of inspir­a­tional teach­ing, matched by a long­stand­ing  pas­sion for research out in the field.

 There is a museum at the University of Sheffield  run by Tim Birkhead called the Alfred Denny Museum in the Dept. of Animal & Plant  Sciences. It’s about the amaz­ing world of nature and it is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month from 9.30 to 1pm. Places can be booked via r.myers@sheffield.ac.uk or 222 9308 during office hours.”