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The Bird Way:  A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, by Jennifer Ackerman.

June 15, 2020

The Bird WayThe Bird Way:  A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, by Jennifer Ackerman.

Forthcoming May 5, 2020

2 stars.

A collection of descriptions of unexpected behavior of birds from around the globe by an author who has written on a wide range of subjects.

Jennifer Ackerman has been publishing about nature and science for 30 years, receiving various awards and grants.   In addition to eight books, she has written articles for respected magazines like National Geographic and Scientific American and worked editing and publishing the nature writings of others.  Her books include two about birds and others about topics like the common cold, heredity, and the human body.

The subtitle of this book is an excellent statement of what this book is and of its merits and problems.  As Ackerman relates, birds and their unusual behavior patterns are intrinsically interesting.   In some cases she relates the stories of individual birds, each with its own uniqueness.  At other times she writes about the changing ways in which scientists who study birds have altered their own understandings of their subjects.  New technologies, such as better cameras, are often the cause of these new revelations. Other insights are simply recognition of scientists’ own biases.  For example, in the past, male birds have been believed to always be the most colorful and have the most interesting and complex vocalization.  More careful attention to female birds, however, makes clear that the opposite is often true.

Telling about the global existence of unusual behavior of birds presents a problem, however.  The Bird Way presents nuggets of information in an almost random order.  While there are general categories focusing on topics like talk or parenting, there is little structure within the sections or in the book as a whole.  There is no attempt to group birds by place or type of bird and only the vaguest attempt to group by actual behavior.  Our minds do not easily process such chaotic information.  Perhaps what I learned most from this book was the fundamental need for good organizing principles in books and in our thinking.

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