In Review: The Meaning of Birds

Between 26th and 28th January 2024, the world’s largest garden bird survey takes place, with contributors asked to note which birds they see, over a period of an hour, in their outdoor garden space. It’s a sobering fact from the RSPB that in the last 60 years we have lost 38 million birds from our skies, so this survey forms a valuable insight into our birdlife and how it is faring. It is also an opportunity for us to reconnect with our feathered friends, whose very existence around us can often be taken for granted.

In recognising this reappraisal, 'The Meaning of Birds’ proves insightful reading. Nature writer Simon Barnes draws us into the avian world, sharing fun facts and thought-provoking information in an easy, conversational style.  As well as learning how Italian chaffinches sing with an Italian accent, that the wren sings 103 notes in an eight second song, how feathers evolved for insulation not flight, and why aircraft designers copied the peregrine falcon when designing passenger jets, the book also muses on some bigger questions such as the morality of the slaughter of pheasants, and the strangeness of feeling sentimental about blue tits whilst enjoying a chicken sandwich! Simon also explores bird symbolism over the centuries and asks, ‘when is feeding birds interfering with nature?’ and ‘if you could only have one bird what would it be?’

The Meaning of Birds

For twitchers and non twitchers alike, the relaxed tone and delicate Victorian line drawings ensure that this is a book which will appeal to everyone. This is no heavy, scientific tome, it’s the sort of easy book for the bedside table, to dip into and enjoy at leisure. It will have you searching the skies, for it gives readers a renewed appreciation for the landscape and its aerial inhabitants. As Simon says, ‘Birds need people, yes, we know that. But here’s another fact. People need birds.’

For more information on taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, please visit