The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

An entertaining and profound look at the lives of birds, illuminating their surprising world—and deep connection with humanity.

Birds are highly intelligent animals, yet their intelligence is dramatically different from our own and has been little understood. As scientists come to understand more about the secrets of bird life, they are unlocking fascinating insights into memory, game theory, and the nature of intelligence itself.

The Thing with Feathers explores the

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  1. takingadayoff "takingadayoff" says:
    21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    The Philosophy of Birds, March 20, 2014
    By 
    takingadayoff “takingadayoff” (Las Vegas, Nevada) –
    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)
      
    (VINE VOICE)
      

    This review is from: The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human (Hardcover)
    This could have been titled Birds and Philosophy. Author Noah Strycker illustrates interesting behavior in the bird world, and compares it with human behavior. Sometimes it’s unexpected behavior, other times it’s downright startling. As we learn more about what makes other creatures tick, it gets harder to pin down what makes us different, what makes us human.

    The male bower bird, for instance, spends ten months a year building, decorating, and perfecting an nest-like area that only serves to impress potential mates. Once the female bower bird has been sufficiently impressed by the male’s building and decorating accomplishments, they mate, then she flies off to build her own nest and raise her chicks on her own. The male continues to work on his bower, and may mate with a dozen female bower birds per season. Since there’s no apparent practical value in the bower itself, one wonders, is it art?

    Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, unlike other birds, and most mammals. Does this mean they have a sense of self, that they can recognize their reflections outside of themselves?

    Nutcrackers have amazing memories, recalling hundreds of locations where they’ve stored seeds for the winter. Having eliminated smell, luck, and some kind of marking system as methods of finding the seeds, researchers are convinced the nutcrackers memorize where the seeds are much the same way we would, by relying on landmarks and other patterns to remember.

    When birds and animals exhibit behavior that we typically think of as human, it’s difficult not to anthropomorphize. Strycker keeps this to a minimum, but does occasionally make cutesy comments about the birds. And when it came to albatrosses, who mate for life, he was quite lyrical about romantic love. On the other hand, I learned quite a lot about birds. I recently watched a PBS Nature show about hummingbirds. It was a fabulously photographed hour of the tiny birds, but I learned more about them from one chapter in The Thing With Feathers than in that whole program.

    Fascinating book on birds, and also about what it means to be human.

    (Thanks to NetGalley and Riverhead Books for a review copy.)

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  2. Jaylia3 says:
    17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    X-birding escapades, the wonders of birds, and what it all means, March 20, 2014
    By 
    Jaylia3 (Silver Spring, MD United States) –
    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)
      
    (VINE VOICE)
      

    Author Noah Strycker is not someone to sit back and enjoy birds from a distance. He’s trekked within a few feet of a mating albatross pair, grabbed hold of penguins to attach GPS tags, and as a teenager he brought home a roadside deer carcass in his trunk, which filled his car with such an overwhelming stench that even at 65 miles an hour he had to drive with his head hanging out the window, just so he could could get close up photos the of turkey vultures as they feasted on gore for a week in his backyard. As both a field scientist and bird enthusiast Strycker has lots of fascinating information and personal stories about birds for this book, as anyone who was anywhere near me while I was reading knows since it was impossible not to share (sorry family and friends).

    Each chapter focuses on the wonders of a particular bird, including homing pigeons, mummerating starlings, fighting hummingbirds, self aware magpies, and architecturally gifted bowerbirds, but from there the discourse spreads out to include such topics as neuroscience, the definition of art, game theory, memory palaces, altruism, the fight or flight response, and what unique species qualities are left to humans (a diminishing list). There were just a few stories I found disturbing, like the one about his friend who hates non-native starlings so much he relishes shooting them with an air gun, clipping their wings, and feeding them disabled but alive to hawks (which Strycker reported as a field scientist neither condemning nor applauding), but those are the exception. Most of the book totally enthralled me with wonderful birds, vicarious birding adventures, and thoughtful commentary.

    I read an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing. The opinions are mine.

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