The Bird Way

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and ThinkThe Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think
by Jennifer Ackerman
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 1925713768
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Pages: 355
Genre: Science
Publisher: Scribe Publishers

'There is the mammal way and there is the bird way.' This is one scientist's pithy distinction between mammal brains and bird brains- two ways to make a highly intelligent mind. But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and, lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviours. What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, and survive. They're also revealing not only the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, and disturbing abilities we once considered uniquely our own - deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, and infanticide - but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play.

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, Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect - in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behaviour - birds vary. It's what we love about them. As E.O. Wilson once said, when you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all.


I loved this book so much, I started putting together a post for it and realised I was going to end up writing something half as long as the book itself, with pictures most of my friends have already seen.  Thankfully I realised just how much work that would be, and frankly, Jennifer Ackerman’s done a better job that I’d ever be able to do.

The Bird Way is sort of a follow-up to The Genius of Birds, which I also highly recommend.  Both bring birds to life in a way that highlights just how unique, how smart, and how under-appreciated they are as a species by the general population.  The Bird Way focuses on some of the even more unique outliers of the species; the ones that defy expectations either by their intelligence, their capacity for play, their weird mating rituals, communications, or parenting styles (or the lack thereof).

After reading this, one comes to terms with the idea that there is truly nothing new under the sun.  There are birds that commit chicknapping, and birds that leave their eggs in everybody else’s nests..  There are birds that murder other birds, rape their females and commit acts of necrophilia.  It’s all very sordid, but their are also birds that go out of their way to feed another species’ fledglings, warn other species about predators, and practice cooperative, communal parenting.  Birds that sing so beautifully that symphonies have been written around their song, and birds that create literal walls of sound that chase out every competitor in their vicinity.

Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It’s easy, accessible reading, but Ackerman has done her research and includes a comprehensive Further Reading at the back of the book, broken down by chapters, that serves as a list of citations.  I’ll admit, part of why I enjoyed the book as much as I did was that while her focus was international, a lot of the birds discussed were Australian and ones I’ve been privileged enough to see myself.  It’s probably this first hand experience that pushed the book solidly into 5 star territory for me; perhaps without it I might have rated it 4.5 stars.  Either way, it’s a book I’d happily recommend to anyone interested in not just birds, but it how we are discovering just how wrong we’ve been about what makes humanity “special”.   And if the section about Keas doesn’t make you smile, and perhaps chuckle out loud, you must be having a really bad day.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

I’ve always known I’m an off-the-chart introvert, but I’ve spent my life being told ‘No way! You are totally extroverted!’ by my employers, so I wanted to learn more about the dynamics of introvert vs. extrovert.

 

This is a great book. As I’ve said, I’ve always known I’m an introvert, but I had no idea what that meant in terms of showing affection, conflict resolution – even my nervous system! Reading this was a great breath of fresh air for me – I’m not ‘broken’ because I can’t ‘fight’ the ‘right’ way and I can’t always control my need to run in the opposite direction from social events larger than 4 people. Other themes that struck a chord: guilt, the need to please, the feelings of devastation at the slightest sign of disapproval, amongst so many others.

 

From a management perspective – well, I wish this book was required reading for anyone managing a number of people. I work in an ‘open office plan’, and while I’m an introvert, I’m not shy, so it’s a daily battle not to turn around and yell at everybody to shut the hell up – or run screaming out of the room myself.

 

I don’t have children, but the last part of the book did a wonderful job touching on the subject of introversion in children and their experiences in the educational system. I never got the standard ‘do you speak English’-type comments growing up (see above about not being shy), but my mother had to deal with 12 years of ‘your daughter is extremely bright but has an attitude problem’ – until I read this book I NEVER understood this as all I ever wanted to do was please my teachers.

 

All in all, a very eye-opening read. For Introverts, it’s an affirmation. For extroverts with introverts in your lives, hopefully reading this book will make understanding us a bit easier.

 

I listened to the audio and while the narrator was excellent (she spoke very quietly – on purpose do you think?), I think this might be a book I’d like to own in print for easy reference in the future.

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects

Things that make you go ‘ewww’.

 

Excellent read but not for the easily squeamish. Amy Stewart vividly describes what many of the world’s pests do, making my partner insist that I stop reading sections out loud to him as they were really too disgusting. But if you like nature, or any interest in entomology, this book is a fascinating, entertaining read.