Bird Minds


Paperback - August 2015 - AU $45.00

eBook - August 2015 - eRetailers Google Books Kobo

Provides an exciting new perspective on the behaviour of Australia's native avifauna.

In her comprehensive and carefully crafted book, Gisela Kaplan demonstrates how intelligent and emotional Australian birds can be. She describes complex behaviours such as grieving, deception, problem solving and the use of tools. Many Australian birds cooperate and defend each other, and exceptional ones go fishing by throwing breadcrumbs in the water, extract poisonous parts from prey and use tools to crack open eggshells and mussels. The author brings together evidence of many such cognitive abilities, suggesting plausible reasons for their appearance in Australian birds. + Full description

Bird Minds is the first attempt to shine a critical and scientific light on the cognitive behaviour of Australian land birds. In this fascinating volume, the author also presents recent changes in our understanding of the avian brain and links these to life histories and longevity.

Following on from Gisela’s well-received books, Australian Magpie and Tawny Frogmouth, as well as two earlier titles on birds, Bird Minds contends that the unique and often difficult conditions of Australia's environment have been crucial for the evolution of unusual complexities in avian cognition and behaviour.

This book is written for a general audience, especially amateur ornithologists and naturalists but it will equally appeal to specialists in bird behaviour and students working in biology, comparative psychology, cognitive ecology, field ornithology, zoology, aviculture and animal welfare. It will also be of interests to veterinarians, zoo personnel, bird lovers and members of other groups concerned with birds.

Recipient of a 2016 Whitley Award commendation for Behavioural Zoology

- Short description


"I live and work surrounded by native birds and I'm often startled by their intelligence and cunning. Now and again I'm convinced that they can have personalities and emotions, and then I call myself to order and put this down to projection. Which is probably why Gisela Kaplan's Bird Minds was such a revelation. Her study of cognition and behaviour suggests that Australian birds are not only smarted than I suspected; they may be more intelligent than I dared to imagine."
Tim Winton, "The ones we loved the best", Canberra Times (p. 16), Sydney Morning Herald (p. 24), The Saturday Age, Melbourne (p. 22), 3 December 2016

"Bird Minds is a fine synthesis of the rapidly growing field of avian cognition... Kaplan treats her readers to a fine selection of photographs and priceless insights from a passionate observer, skilled communicator, and critical scholar... I highly recommend Bird Minds to all ornithologists, birders, and anyone interested in nature. Those of us who are fascinated by bird behaviour and cognition but don't know Australia will learn from each page of this book. If you are planning a trip Down Under, pack a copy next to your binoculars and field guide."
John M. Marzluff, The Auk: Ornithological Advances 134, 2017, pp. 258-259

"Bird Minds is a book that nicely combines the best scientific rigor with stories of bird behaviours that we can all appreciate… Kaplan uses her broad knowledge of human and animal neurology to enhance the interpretation of bird behaviours, and this adds a further dimension to the book."
Alison Turner, Canberra Bird Notes 40(3), 2015, pp 298

"The book covers with competence the most traditional topics of avian intelligence, including nest building, mimicry, tool use, imitation, play, social and vocal learning, but also more neglected topics, such as brain and behavioural asymmetries... the book provides a scholarly but also very enjoyable reading on the intelligence of birds, and should thus be a recommended reading even to non-specialists."
Giorgio Vallortigara, Frontiers in Psychology, 7 September 2016

"highly readable, with many points of reference for any ecologist or amateur naturalist familiar with Australian bird species... I commend this book as a fascinating read, and it is hoped that it would be a catalyst for many more studies on the cognitive skills of birds in general and Australian birds in particular."
Ralf Buckley, Austral Ecology, 41(18), 2016

"Bird Minds provides a highly readable and scholarly overview of the intelligence of birds, one that seamlessly integrates a wide variety of research by behavioural ecologists and comparative cognitive psychologists in a way that does justice to the goals of each”
Thomas Zentall, Animal Behaviour 114, 2016, pp 12

"I recommend this book to all who value our birds... it is a valuable reference of importance for your bookshelf and especially if readily available on your desk. I will re-read many pages and I suspect that will be similar for readers who will want to revisit various topics"
Gil Porter, Warbler (Southern Queensland BirdLife e-newsletter), Vol 5(1), March 2016, pp 21-22

"I highly recommend Dr. Kaplan's most recent gem... an excellent book for researchers, advanced undergraduate and graduate courses, and for others who just want to know about the fascinating animals with whom we share our magnificent world."
Marc Bekoff, "Bird Minds: An Outstanding Book About Australian Natives", Psychology Today, 4 April 2016

"This book is easy to read, covers a breadth of cognitive queries, and discusses a number of Australia’s more prominent and unique bird species. However, I would argue the true value of possessing it is in its potential to broaden the understanding any reader – regardless of their education – has of the way animals other than ourselves think and make sense of the world around them. All of us, even children, ponder this question from time to time. Here, Kaplan gifts the reader with the latest knowledge from the frontline of research, and in doing so ensures they never look at a magpie the same way again."
Christopher McCormack, Wild Melbourne (blog), 27 November 2015

"a thorough and engaging read that will decidedly get human minds ticking!"
Australian Birdlife Magazine, December 2015, pp 80

"This thoroughly researched book will provide a wealth of information and learning to ornithologists, veterinarians and bird watchers alike."
Dr Phil Tucak, Australian Veterinary Journal, 94(8), 2016, pp 264

"Overall, this book is a welcome addition to the animal cognition library. Kaplan provides a valuable overview of interesting behaviours observed in Australia's avifauna thus far... Her writing style, which is clear and warm, will appeal to many; it is obvious that this is a topic close to her heart... I applaud Kaplan for both her extensive research and bringing Australia's colourful and enchanting avifauna to life on the pages of her book."
Amanda Ridley, Emu, 166(4), 2016, pp 477-479

"This book is written for those with an interest in birds and bird behaviour, but without means or knowhow to trawl through the huge body of pertinent scientific literature. If you enjoyed any of Kaplan's numerous earlier works... you will certainly also enjoy this book."
Catherine Young, Corella 40(4), 2016, p. 103


Paperback | August 2015 | $ 45.00
ISBN: 9781486300181 | 280 pages | 245 x 170 mm
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Illustrations, Photographs

ePDF | August 2015
ISBN: 9781486300198
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers

ePUB | August 2015
ISBN: 9781486300204
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Available from eRetailers


  • Up-to-date insights on avain neurobiology based on the latest research
  • Casts a new light on why birds behave the way they do
  • A final chapter highlights the important implications for the care of native birds



1 Australian conditions and their consequences
2 Brain size, long life and resourcefulness
3 Foragers, food-switchers and innovators
4 Tool use
5 Nest and bower builders
6 Play behaviour
7 Mimicry and imitation – the cognitive dimensions
8 Social and vocal learning
9 Emotions, communication and cognition
10 Communicating intentionally
11 Abstract concepts and states of mind
12 Which native birds are smart?


View the full table of contents.


Gisela Kaplan is a Professor at the University of New England and an Honorary Professor at the Queensland Brain Institute. She is the author of over 250 research articles and 21 books and has conducted groundbreaking research into vocal learning, communication and cognition in birds and other vertebrates. She holds two PhDs and an honorary DSc for her contributions to life sciences. In addition to extensive research on birds in the wild, for the past two decades she has also raised and rehabilitated injured native birds.