Birds of a Feather

Reading goes to the birds in these excellent works about birds, birding, and vanishing wildlife. 

Reading goes to the birds in these excellent works about birds, birding, and vanishing wildlife. 

Ackerman, Jennifer. What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds. Books on Tape. Jun. 2023. 9:15 hrs. ISBN 9780593681527. $85.50. SCI

In science writer Ackerman’s latest birding deep dive, after The Bird Way, she shares the nuances of all things owl. Through her exploration of this worldwide parliament and spending time with owl researchers and their projects, Ackerman relates anecdotes derived from research findings, as well as special-interest stories. A variety of breeds including the great gray owl, snowy owl, burrowing owl, and barred owl, to name a few, are featured in discussions of owl breeding, communication, nesting habits, migratory tendencies, intelligence, and adaptability. Additionally, there’s an intriguing chapter on how owls are viewed in international cultures, favorably and otherwise. Ackerman concludes with a few tips on how to better share the planet with these majestic birds so they can thrive and so humans may continue to enjoy them for years to come. Keenly narrated by the author, who has a talent for mimicking owl vocalizations, thereby enabling listeners to better identify owl calls in the wild. VERDICT Admirers of Ackerman’s previous birding books and fans of our feathered friends will relish this foray into the secretive lives of owls. This is an easy listen that gains strength as it progresses, without technical jargon bogging it down.—Kym Goering

Craig, Mya-Rose. Birdgirl: Looking to the Skies in Search of a Better Future. Macmillan Audio. Mar. 2023. 9:30 hrs. ISBN 9781250887252. $26.99. MEMOIR

Ornithologist, environmentalist, and diversity activist Craig offers a memoir that traces her childhood and her pursuit of rare birds, known as “twitching” in British parlance. Born to a British father and a Bangladeshi Muslim mother, Craig was initiated by her family into birding from an early age; together they traveled internationally, with her first big birding trip at the age of six. Craig’s birding forays took her to wild areas around the world, where the devastating effects of development and climate change wreaked havoc on most animal species, including birds. Craig’s journey into climate activism is a natural outcome of all that she has seen and done. In addition to detailing her development as an environmentalist and birder, Craig candidly discusses her mother’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which impacted their trips but also helped them grow as a family. Craig narrates her own work, transmitting her enthusiasm and knowledge in her engaging British-Bangladeshi accent. VERDICT Craig’s infectious passion for birding, racial equity, and environmental activism are conveyed with joy and sensitivity. An exuberant memoir that is recommended for all collections.—Gretchen Pruett

Gyllenhaal, Anders & Beverly Gyllenhaal. A Wing and a Prayer: The Race To Save Our Vanishing Birds. S. & S. Audio. Apr. 2023. 9:03 hrs. ISBN 9781797158631. $19.99. SCI

In this riveting debut, journalists and bird conservationists Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal unpack their research, asking why there is such a high rate of bird loss each year and exploring what can be done to stop this alarming trend. This outstanding production is thoughtfully performed by skilled narrators Cassandra Campbell and Stephen Graybill. The sound of songbirds during the production’s introduction sets the tone, as Campbell and Graybill present alternating chapters and give voice to Beverly and Anders. Well-matched, both narrators excel in vocally expressing compassion for their topic and sharing specific examples of birds currently threatened or headed for extinction because of agricultural expansion, habitat loss, encroachment of people into habitats, use of pesticides, and disease. While smoldering anger can be detected, glimmers of hope are present as well, as the duo present ideas being tested by scientists and offer practical suggestions for nature lovers and naturalists hoping to help save these threatened creatures. As an audio plus, Campbell admirably imitates bird calls within the text. VERDICT An upsetting but ultimately hopeful look at how citizen scientists can effect positive change in the natural world.—Stephanie Bange

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