Starred Titles in Birding | Science & Technology

This work will engage all readers interested in learning more about birds and natural history; this will be of great interest to birders, naturalists, behaviorists, and enjoyers of wildlife art

redstarAckerman, Jennifer. The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Penguin Pr. May 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780735223011. $28. NAT HIST
Ackerman (The Genius of Birds) contends that recent research on how birds communicate, work, play, parent, and think reveals that the creatures are remarkably intelligent. The complex behavior of birds recounted here, including the greater ani, the kea parrot, and the brush turkey, demonstrates that birds have sophisticated mental abilities previously unrecognized by conventional avian research. Ackerman supports her thesis with descriptions of the behavior of an entertaining variety of birds from across the world. She brings scientific research alive with personal field observations and accounts of her encounters with colorful and fascinating birds. Throughout, Ackerman reminds readers that birds are thinking beings—their brains are wired differently than those of mammals, giving them increased brain power despite their small size. She further makes the case that bird intelligence shows that humankind is not alone in using language and tools or constructing complex structures and manipulating other creatures. VERDICT This work will engage all readers interested in learning more about birds and natural history.—Mark Jones, Mercantile Lib., Cincinnati
redstarSibley, David Allen. What It’s Like To Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing, and Why. Knopf. Apr. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9780307957894. $35. NAT HIST
Sibley is the author and illustrator of a series of bird guides, including The Sibley Guide to Birds. His splendid art is again showcased in this latest work, which features more than 300 illustrations of birds that will engage new and advanced birders. Sibley successfully captures what many artists don’t, including the set of bills and the placement of eyes. His sketches, schematic and masterfully suggestive, enhance the full-color illustrations. The backgrounds of buildings, vegetation, and scenery are also highly evocative. Sibley has surveyed much of the world literature to inform his concise, vivid descriptions of bird behavior, biology, breeding, anatomy, plumage, and feeding. These complex attributes come alive thanks to his art and writing. The text layout is alluring, with several illustrated sections of each page’s text devoted to every species. Unusual aspects include a few anatomical diagrams and illustrations of predators carrying prey. VERDICT Similar to his guidebooks, this work will be of great interest to birders, naturalists, behaviorists, and enjoyers of wildlife art.—Henry T. Armistead, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia
redstarSlaght, Jonathan C. Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest To Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl. Farrar. Jun. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780374228484. $27. NAT HIST
Slaght recounts his five-year study of Blakiston’s fish owls: raptors notable for their large size, rarity, and habitat (shared with Amur tigers) in southeastern Russia. The author, now the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, is a young PhD candidate looking for a research topic when the book begins. He’s essentially starting from scratch, since so little was known about the birds. As fine a writer as he is scientist, Slaght gives the narrative an enticing structure; it’s well into the book before he gets a good look at the cryptic species. Information about fish owl behavior and biology is gradually revealed as his knowledge expands. Readers learn much about the vagaries of scientific fieldwork, including the worries caused by severe weather, equipment failure, and project funding issues. While the birds are marvelous, there’s a compelling human side to the story as well as Slaght describes his interactions with local scientists and research assistants. VERDICT Slaght’s extensive field research is rendered into clear, readable prose, making it a solid choice for bird lovers, but also for armchair travelers looking for eco-adventure on the fringes of civilization.—­Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont.

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