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

Once again, I finished this book just in time, despite starting it right after The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities. Only this time, it’s because my commute went from an hour each way to five seconds each day to nothing because I’m on Weather and Safety Leave. Again, that’s a long story that, like yesterday, I’m punting for another day. Such is life with SARS-CoV-2, but in this respect I’m quite luck and still have my health. However, it does mean without that long commute, my reading time has become a fraction of what it was. But, I made it!

Noah Strycker spins a fascinating tale of the secret lives of birds. Clearly, the author loves class Aves and is an avid birder himself. His love of all modern dinosaurs shines through. Each chapter and section is set with a distinct theme and a story that focuses one one of our fine, feathered friends and how it relates to we mammals. So, without further à Deux, let’s dive in like a bunch if timid penguins!

Corvidae are smart! I’d never heard of any creature outside of the mammals passing the Mirror Test. The fact that some Magpies can utterly blew my mind. Heckle and Jeckle would have been proud! Damn, that bird family is cleaver! And the way Nutcrackers can remember where they cached food photographically is astounding! If we leave, I bet they’re taking over!

Hummingbirds are crazy violent. But Chickens take the cake, they are hierarchical. I mean, keeping track in your ranking up to thirty birds deep. Of course, it does break down with more than thirty and there’s still the triangle problem. Who knew chickens weren’t condorcet?

Now I want to see a Snowy Owl. I can’t believe a bounty of lemmings could cause a spike in populations that could bring the bird this far south. At least Washington State loves them, a lot more than they do the Spotted Owl, though that did inspire Hedwig. On the other hand, I want to see the Albatross but the Falkland Islands are so far away and then never serve them in my local theatre. If only I could get get around like a pigeon, especially a Homing Pigeon in case I get lost.

It was fascinating to hear that dummers can keep better time than Parrots. Which is to say, a Cockatoo can keep good time, but it isn’t good at noticing a change in tempo. It makes me wonder why they’re not as coordinated as Boirds or their prototype Starlings. Parrots still may have good hearing, but one thing’s for sure, Vultures have excellent eyesight. However, only Turkey Vultures can smell you from a meter away with its great, big nostrils, though not much more.

The main takeaway for me is how similar some bird behaviors are to humans. Bowerbirds males try to impress female birds to find a mate, and humans try to impress other humans in order to get a date. The birds build little shrines, complete with vanishing perspective, and we humans buy clothes, and cars, and houses, and do sports, or just become smart by reading lots of science books. And when you get the mate, being as faithful as a Fairy Wren could mean success. Then again, female Fairy Wrens who fool around do tend to live longer? 🤔

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

All in all, a very entertaining book that made me think. And books that make you think are indeed the best kind of science book. And speaking of the human condition, next up, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes

Hope to see you in person soon, my sapiosexual friends!

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