Jennifer Ackerman is a science writer of some renown. One only needs to look at her bibliography to see that she understands researching and writing about a few different topics, but birds being one of the more common subjects for her. Here the specific focus is bird intelligence.
Ackerman provides examples, mostly current, some historical, of unusual bird behavior that suggests or highlights an intelligence that we’ve often over-looked, not recognized, or written off as some strange instinctual behavior. All of these are quite remarkable and Ackerman’s presentation really makes a strong case for “bird brain” to be a compliment rather than an insult (though I suspect the idiom will never catch on).
There are enough personal comments throughout to keep this from being a dry dissertation. These are the moments which have me agreeing with her as she expresses some awe. For instance:
I know that navigating by celestial cues is not necessarily a sign of high intellect. After all, dung beetles—best known for sculpting little balls of animal feces that they later eat—use light from the Milky Way to orient themselves at night. Still, it seems a marvel to me that birds can glean a north-south orientation by learning the rotational patterns of stars.
A marvel indeed!
What really struck me is that we humans don’t really give enough credit for intelligence in other species. We anthropomorphize and then, when a creature doesn’t behave or react or communicate the way we expect them to (like humans) we assume there is a lack of intelligence. It seems pretty clear, reading Ackerman’s work here, that there might be a good deal of ‘intelligence’ (cognizant thinking?) going on.
Will more studies be done? I’m sure there are many studies being done all the time, but without a ‘bestseller voice’ such as Jennifer Ackerman’s, most of us will probably miss out on the news, which is too bad, because this has really piqued my interest.
Looking for a good book? The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman is a quite fascinating look at new studies showing that our ‘bird brained’ feathered friends just might be a lot more intelligent than we’ve previously suspected.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Genius of Birds
author: Jennifer Ackerman
publisher: Penguin Press
hardcover, 352 pages