The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, a radical investigation into the bird way of being, and the recent scientific research that is dramatically shifting our understanding of birds -- how they live and how they think.
“There is the mammal way and there is the bird way.” But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviors they have, for years, dismissed as anomalies or mysteries –– What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, survive. They are also revealing the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, abilities we once considered uniquely our own: deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, infanticide, but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play.
Some of these extraordinary behaviors are biological conundrums that seem to push the edges of, well, birdness: a mother bird that kills her own infant sons, and another that selflessly tends to the young of other birds as if they were her own; a bird that collaborates in an extraordinary way with one species—ours—but parasitizes another in gruesome fashion; birds that give gifts and birds that steal; birds that dance or drum, that paint their creations or paint themselves; birds that build walls of sound to keep out intruders and birds that summon playmates with a special call—and may hold the secret to our own penchant for playfulness and the evolution of laughter.
Drawing on personal observations, the latest science, and her bird-related travel around the world, from the tropical rainforests of eastern Australia and the remote woodlands of northern Japan, to the rolling hills of lower Austria and the islands of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay, Jennifer Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect, in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behavior, birds vary. It is what we love about them. As E.O Wilson once said, when you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all.
About the Author
Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science and nature for three decades. She is the author of eight books, including The Genius of Birds, which has been translated into twenty languages and the forthcoming The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Her articles and essays have appeared in Scientific American, National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, Ackerman is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
"A brilliant synthesis of bird behavior research . . .What makes Ackerman’s book a joy to read is not just the stories she tells, but her vivid writing style . . . If there’s one thing Ackerman’s illuminating book makes clear, it’s that there is no single way to be a bird. Her opus is a celebration of the sheer diversity of avian behaviors, practices, predilections and the birds she writes about are 'iconoclasts and rule breakers' and remain 'layered in mystery.' It is this decision to focus on birds’ idiosyncrasies, to resist generalizations and categorizations, to break down assumptions about bird behavior, and to show how 'individual birds are every bit as distinctive as we humans are' that make this book so remarkable." —Birding Magazine
“From tales of dazzling plumage to anecdotes about almost unfathomable mimicry, Jennifer Ackerman’s The Bird Way is a walk through the mysteries, wonders, and peculiarities of the avian world . . . Ackerman’s excitement and love for it are evident in her writing. Her superb storytelling paints a rich picture that engages the reader’s imagination, making sometimes-hard-to-grasp research accessible.” —Science Magazine
“[Ackerman’s] exhilarating book will leave you as awestruck by the complexities and contradictions of bird life as she is.” —San Francisco Chronicle
"After reading Ackerman ('The Genius of Birds'), you may listen harder to the various chirps, cheeps and coos coming from your backyard. Her new book reminds us that we have a lot in common with birds — like us, they are capable of deception and manipulation, not to mention cooperation, culture and communication." —The Washington Post
“In The Bird Way, Jennifer Ackerman digs deeper and ranges farther into bird behavior, pulling tasty stories out of rich ground as she hops across the continents [ . . . ] Like a bowerbird, Ms. Ackerman gathers and displays treasures to amaze and delight—then lets the scientists’ stories take center stage [. . .] Refreshingly, Ackerman spotlights a number of female researchers.” —Wall Street Journal
“[S]plendid and spellbinding . . . The Bird Way shows us a new way to view birds, yes—but perhaps even better, through their eyes, intellect, and more-than-human senses, it lets birds reveal to us the hidden realities of our shared world.” —Sy Montgomery, American Scholar
“Ackerman brings scientific research alive with personal observations of colorful and fascinating birds, from the kea parrot to the raven to the brush turkey, among others. By showing how each species communicates, plays, parents, works, and thinks, she reminds us that there is no one way to be a bird.” —Science Friday
"Ackerman packs her book with insightful observations, interesting factoids, and deep dives into new research about birds as varied as seagulls, emus, vultures, and robins."—Undark
“Ackerman's vibrant writing ensures that all things bird are thoroughly compelling and enjoyable.” —Booklist, starred review
“Ackerman reminds readers that birds are thinking beings . . . She brings scientific research alive with personal field observations and accounts of her encounters with colorful and fascinating birds . . . [The Bird Way] will engage all readers interested in learning more about birds and natural history.”—Library Journal, starred review
"A brightly original book . . . Ackerman is a smooth writer; her presentation of ideas is deft, and her anecdotes are consistently engaging . . . [She] demonstrates bird science as an evolving discipline that is consistently fascinating, and she offers brilliant discussions of the use of smell, long overlooked but indeed deployed for navigation; courtship signals; predator avoidance, and, not surprisingly, locating food. “—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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