Spring has arrived, and along with it comes a flock of books about our feathered friends. Here are three new titles that bird watchers will find especially intriguing.
Jennifer Ackerman, longtime nature writer and contributor to Scientific American, thinks it’s time to ditch the term “bird brain.” In The Genius of Birds, she offers compelling evidence that birds are far smarter than we previously thought. In fact, she writes, new research has found “bird species capable of mental feats comparable to those [of] primates.” Birds can recognize human faces, use geometry to navigate, learn new skills from one another (like how to open milk bottles) and even work puzzles. The author travels from the South Pacific—home of the world’s smartest bird, the New -Caledonian crow—to rural China as she explores the surprising cognitive abilities of birds. Ackerman is a pro at parsing scientific concepts in an accessible style, and her lyrical writing underscores her appreciation for the beauty and adaptability of birds.
While bird brains are the focus of many new studies, there’s nothing more beautiful or delicate than a brightly colored bird’s egg. In The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg, ornithologist Tim Birkhead deconstructs every part of the egg to reveal how these small survival pods are “perfect in so many different ways.” From the shell (composed of upright crystals “packed against each other like a stack of fence posts”) to the albumen (the “absolutely remarkable, mysterious stuff” that most of us call the white part), the elements are described here in exquisite detail. Like a bird watcher who spots a rare specimen, the author shows palpable (and charming) excitement for his subject throughout, never losing his sense of wonder and admiration for nature’s “ingenious construction” of the egg.
IN THE NEST
A contributing editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, Julie Zickefoose has a particular fascination with baby birds and enjoys painting these scrawny, screeching creatures from the moment they hatch to the day they leave the nest as fledglings. Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest offers a rare and meticulously chronicled portrait of baby birds’ day-to-day development, with the author’s lovely watercolor paintings adding a vivid visual dimension. In her introduction, Zickefoose describes Baby Birds as “an odd sort of book, like a Victorian-era curiosity.” Fans of the rediscovered 1970s bestseller The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady will happily agree.