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The Bird Way, by Jennifer Ackerman | Book Review

January 28, 2021

By Femi Faminu
[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

During a casual conversation about notable books, my mention of a book by Jennifer Ackerman that I was reading at the time was deftly turned by Chuck Almdale into my writing a review of the book.

My introduction to Jennifer Ackerman was through another book of hers, Chance in the House of Fate: A natural history of heredity, which explores the influence of genetics in human behavior and her new book The Bird Way; A new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent, and think is written in a similar meandering yet logical style.  Ackerman tackles several topics while seeking an understanding of life from the perspective of the birds themselves, drilling the answers down to the minutia of DNA and then taking a few steps back to view the same question from other angles.

Several of my questions as an amateur birder are addressed, for instance, do female passerines sing? Well, the short answer is, for various reasons, yes and no. And while we’re at it, vocalization is not limited to song, but bird language in both sexes includes calls, mimicry, gongs, whispers, chuckles, trumpeting and caroling at all times of day and night for myriad reasons. Get the picture?

Her answers to an initial question sometimes lead to more questions. Rather than providing simplified answers, Ackerman spends most of the book describing the wonders of Avian life,  drawing parallels with humans and explaining how we differ. For instance, why they see colors we cannot and how some have a visual acuity that exceeds ours by such a significant degree that it is difficult to imagine.

Ultimately not all mysteries are solved, because the truth is, we just don’t know how birds perform a lot of the feats they do. I was still left with a deeper sense of wonder and appreciation for our feathered friends. Although we still don’t understand a lot of how or why birds do what they do, this should not reduce our enjoyment of their company, but rather make them appear more wondrous.

YouTube: Ackerman talks about “The Bird Way.”
Time: 13:29

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