Book Review: The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
The Genius of Birds may not be for everyone, but for this bird lover and biology major, it was absolutely marvelous.
The author—a bird lover herself—is a journalist who traveled the world to observe the work of researchers studying avian intelligence. She relates amazing stories of many species of birds—the New Caledonian crows, the bowerbirds of Australia, the tits of Great Britain, mimic birds and migratory birds—whose intelligence, as measured by fascinating and well-constructed experiments, is far greater than previously thought. In some cases, these birds rival primates and even humans in their intricate behaviors.
From complex song patterns to the construction and use of tools, to impressive social behavior (e.g., deception, manipulation, gift-giving, consoling, alerting to danger), Ackerman gives us an inside look at almost unbelievable avian characteristics, elegant experiments, and fascinating conclusions.
This work is not without issues—birds must sometimes be captured, operated on, and killed to be studied. The studies themselves can alter their behavior. But the work she describes is furthering our knowledge and understanding of intelligence—not just avian, but also all animal intelligence.
I was fortunate to hear the author, who lives in the Charlottesville area of Virginia, speak at our state arboretum, Blandy Farm. Her commitment to learning and her passion for discovery were as evident in person as in her book.
One thing for sure: the next time I call someone a birdbrain, it will be a sincere compliment.
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