June 14, 2023

What an Owl Knows

By Jennifer Ackerman
Bestselling author and passionate bird advocate Jennifer Ackerman goes around the world to find out why owls so intrigue humans in her wide-ranging and wonderful new book.
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Owls are adorable, alluring and enduringly fascinating. They’ve been featured in everything from ancient cave paintings to the works of Picasso, iconic Tootsie Pop commercials, the Harry Potter series, mythology and poetry.

“What is it about owls that so enthralls us?” asks bestselling author, prolific science writer and passionate bird advocate Jennifer Ackerman (The Genius of Birds, The Bird Way) in the very first line of her wide-ranging and wonderful new book, What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds. She explores this question with her trademark thoroughness and care, leading readers on an in-depth tour through the extraordinary world of owls. Scientists, field researchers, academics and volunteers (aka “citizen scientists”) serve as dedicated guides, as eager as the author to share knowledge and admiration in hopes of inspiring others to protect these special birds.

Jennifer Ackerman shares which owly items in her home and closet are her favorite.

Ackerman chronicles her travels to places such as the Mission Mountains in Montana; Norfolk Island in Australia; southeastern Brazil; and Waynesboro, Virginia, in chapters covering owls’ evolution, communication, breeding, migration and—of course—wisdom. She visits wildlife centers, peers up at countless trees and tromps through nighttime landscapes with fellow owl lovers to hear about the astonishing things they’ve discovered. There are funny tidbits, too; as one Montana field researcher quipped, “This is not the first time we’ve found a nest when someone had to pee.”

Less quotidian revelations include the thrill of first hearing great horned owlets vocalizing in their eggs and the gratifying achievements of education in Kikinda, Serbia, where hundreds of long-eared owls roost in the town square. (A public awareness campaign transformed superstitious fear into immense hometown pride.) During her reporting, Ackerman also learned about new research indicating that owls are more clever and intentional than previously realized: They have emotions, engage in altruism and play. “We think we know something about them, and then, poof! they dispel our theories, offering up bent or broken rules and unexpected qualities,” she writes.

Ackerman also reminds readers that owls are at risk of extinction, thanks to “human-induced climate change” via deforestation and development, rodenticides, wildfires, et al. What should we do? “Everything in our power,” she writes, to learn about and preserve owl populations around the world. Reading the edifying and immersive What an Owl Knows is an excellent place to start.

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What an Owl Knows

What an Owl Knows

By Jennifer Ackerman
Penguin Press
ISBN 9780593298886

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