The Genius of Birds

The Genius of Birds

Book - 2016
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In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about. As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research -- the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia, the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia, the ravaged mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy and the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states -- Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are revolutionizing our view of what it means to be intelligent. Consider, as Ackerman does, the Clark's nutcracker, a bird that can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over dozens of square miles and remember where it put them several months later; the mockingbirds and thrashers, species that can store 200 to 2,000 different songs in a brain a thousand times smaller than ours; the well-known pigeon, which knows where it's going, even thousands of miles from familiar territory; and the New Caledonian crow, an impressive bird that makes its own tools. But beyond highlighting how birds use their unique genius in technical ways, Ackerman points out the impressive social smarts of birds. They deceive and manipulate. They eavesdrop. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war. They tease. They share. They cultivate social networks. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They alert one another to danger. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve. This elegant scientific investigation and travelogue weaves personal anecdotes with fascinating science.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2016
ISBN: 9781594205217
Characteristics: 340 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Jan 08, 2018

I LOVE this book! Great read on birds! Highly recommend.

Dec 29, 2017

A interesting ornithological tour around the globe. From racing pigeons in England to artistically inclined bowerbirds in Australia, the author does a fine job of mixing personal observation and passion with scientific exploration and discovery. Even the most basic bird-based topic (sparrows live everywhere) makes for an interesting study in avian cognition.

And that's the big takeaway here. Birds have advanced neurological processors vis a vis the rest of the animal kingdom. This book attempts to identify, describe and explain how and why some of these interesting behaviors arose, and whether or not they are instinct or intellect. Or some combination of the two. Enjoy learning more about your feathered friends, but stop there; this book doesn't have any major takeaways or applications for your own day to day life. The birds, really, don't provide us any useful insights into our own behavior.

If you're a bird lover, this is a must read. If you've caught yourself interested or entertained by the activity at a backyard feeder, this is a good weekend page turner. If you think birds are weird, well, this book might just provide all the evidence you need.

fineplan Nov 29, 2017

Utterly fascinating and it's got me seeking out more books on animal intelligence.

Jun 26, 2017

Not a complete description of the intelligence of birds, but a well written description of some aspects. Includes tool use; voice, including dialects; reproductive behavior; the adaptive power of certain species; bird brains; migration; the effects of global warming. Clearly Ackerman loves birds, though her approach is more journalistic than scientific--i.e. she doesn't do the science herself. I loved her punning approach to language about birds. I'd have liked maps and photos, too.

Jun 23, 2017

5 stars! excellent book - bird culture in the wild!

Apr 26, 2017

The writing is okay, if dull and plodding. The author has a strong bias, not always backed up by evidence. She made a huge blunder with her explanation of odds (The Price is Right). And few drawings, never labelled, no maps, diagrams or photos.

ontherideau Feb 12, 2017

An intelligent book of importance. Humans have such a need to know how other beings function. Sometimes it's enough to watch and say "that's wonderful".

Feb 09, 2017

If you've ever wondered how smart birds are and how they use their intelligence, this is the book to read. It's a fascinating look at bird intelligence, how they demonstrate it, how we measure and study it, why some birds are smarter than others, and the mysteries that still remain about bird intelligence and how they map their environment. It's geared towards interested laypeople (and birders!) and does a good job of explaining complex scientific concepts without dumbing it down or getting bogged by jargon.

Nov 21, 2016

Little could be added to the "Opinions" above. This is a book that will surely appeal to those dedicated bird enthusiasts as well as those seeking the fundamentals of their future survival. Not always an 'easy' read with the in depth exploration of subject and continual reference to source. Yet, the references substantiate these studies, and is indication of the world wide expression and pursuit of this knowledge. What I observe is that Russians, Chinese, African, et al have a dedication to the 'feathered friend' community, sans politics. Many theories, and disagreements, yet the value of the discussion speaks to the search. This book encompasses climate change, adaptability, survival skills and evolution. Rich in subject matter for a worthy read and consideration on many levels.

Aug 22, 2016

I already knew that birds are smart because I have pet birds.. this book has many cool examples of birds doing interesting/smart things and problem solving. But it is also very repetitive.

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Feb 09, 2017

Have you ever wondered how smart birds are and how they use their intelligence? This book looks at bird intelligence, how they demonstrate it, how we measure and study it, why some birds are smarter than others, and the mysteries that still remain about bird intelligence and some extraordinary achievements by these small flying creatures. It's geared towards the interested public (including birders) and explains complex scientific concepts without dumbing it down or getting bogged by jargon.


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