A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World’s Smartest Birds of Prey

Knopf. Mar. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9781101875704. $30. NAT HIST
From his first visit to the Falklands, Meiburg felt a kinship with its striated caracaras—raptors known locally as Johnny rooks. Found there and on Tierra del Fuego’s outermost islands, only 500 pairs are thought to exist. Meiburg himself is a rare bird; not just a writer, but also front man for the acclaimed band Shearwater. Striated caracaras, though technically falcons, are more like crows or parrots: intelligent, curious, and sociable. Charles Darwin, in 1834, noted the birds’ mischievous behavior and wondered why they had chosen the Falklands as their habitat. That question is the point of departure for this book, and the author blends natural history, scientific inquiry, and travelogue in an attempt to better understand the species, including its past and future. Readers follow Meiburg as he stalks Johnny rook relatives in the jungles of Guyana and the Andes mountain range; he also travels to English falconry parks to see captive birds show off their brainy side. A fascinating subtheme concerns Victorian naturalist and novelist W. H. Hudson, who is now largely forgotten; he was one of the first to write appreciatively about caracaras.
VERDICT An ambitious, impressive debut. The book’s manifold strands will engage all sorts of readers, including bird lovers, science buffs, and eco-adventure fans.
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