“The Genius of Birds” by Jennifer Ackerman— Rethinking Birds

Ackerman, Jennifer. “The Genius of Birds”, Penguin, 2017.

Rethinking Birds

Amos Lassen

Writer Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds. She travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research from the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia to the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia as well as the mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy to the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states. She shares the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds and also explores the newest findings about the brain of the bird itself. In this, she shifts our views on intelligence.

 Looking at the Clark’s nutcracker, we see a bird that can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over dozens of square miles and remember several months later. We meet mockingbirds and thrashers that can store 200 to 2,000 different songs in a brain a thousand times smaller than ours. We learn that birds use their special genius in technical ways and Ackerman shares their social smarts of birds; how they deceive and manipulate, eavesdrop, give gifts, console one another, blackmail their parents, alert one another to danger, summon witnesses to the death of a peer and might even grieve. I doubt that we have ever considered these traits in reference to birds.

By adding personal anecdotes to science, we get quite a story that shows us how to appreciate the exceptional talents of birds and see what birds can reveal about our changing world. I doubt that I would have ever considered reading this if I had not been sent a review copy but now that I have read it, I am ready to learn more and more about our feathered friends.

Author Jennifer Ackerman is a wonderful writer who is just as fun when she is serious as when she is laugh-out-loud funny. I was surprised throughout and learned about how different types of birds bond, and how they teach their young to perform certain important actions they will eventually need to survive.

“The Genius of Bird” celebrates bids behaviors, patterns, reversal learning and the importance of studying birds in their natural environment to learn more and better understand them, This is quite a big read but every word is chosen to express something about birds. It is such a pleasure to be entertained while learning something (or a lot of something’s) new. I commend Ackerman’s ability to give usscientific concepts accessibly and lyrically. She gives many interesting facts that she and backs up with history or science. We gain “deep respect” for the birds as we read a moral consideration of the world.

Birds’ brains may be small and they are built differently from mammalian brains, yet they can still execute prodigious feats of intellect. Jennifer Ackerman has written such fascinating information that she leaves the reader wanting more. We learn how birds carry out their vast migrations, how they find their way home, why male birds sing from their hearts out why female birds choose their mates by these efforts and this is just a sampling. These and many other questions are explored, with no final answers and we get even more questions that make us want to find out for ourselves.

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