The Thing with Feathers explores the astonishing homing abilities of pigeons, the good deeds of fairy-wrens, the influential flocking abilities of starlings, the deft artistry of bowerbirds, the extraordinary memories of nutcrackers, the lifelong loves of albatross, and other mysteries—revealing why birds do what they do, and offering a glimpse into our own nature.
Noah Strycker is a birder and naturalist who has traveled the world in pursuit of his flighty subjects. Drawing deep from personal experience, cutting-edge science, and colorful history, he spins captivating stories about the birds in our midst and reveals the startlingly intimate coexistence of birds and humans.
I loved this book. I want to give it 10 stars just for the sheer enjoyment of reading it. It's so well written, well-researched and beautifully, tightly edited. It was a real experience reading it. The book scientifically explores bird behaviour and culture, if you define culture as something an individual or group have preferences they choose, or something that is learned rather than instinctive.
Bower birds are an example. Although birds of the same species build very similar bowers and decorate them in more or less the same way, various individuals or groups might choose to use use certain artefacts that another group nearby would ignore. This was tested with pretty poker chips. One group went nuts about them and were forever stealing them from each other to decorate their bowers, another group totally ignored them and preferred stones and sticks!
In the area tested by Jared Diamond there were two groups of birds. One, who is described in the book as having "Gothic tastes" like black and brown stones and sticks and weren't at all tempted by the pretty poker chips. The females didn't fancy the males who had colourful bowers. These two sets of birds are of exactly the same species. But given time, the se non-interbreeding populations would probably diverge and, over thousands of years, evolve into different species that could not interbreed. Is this culture - art - driving evolution?
So how do we define art? Like everything else to do with animals and science, where once we were certain that animals did this and humans did that and therein lies the difference, we are no longer certain at all. Think of tools, then it was discovered that not only primates use tools, so do birds and other species. Farming is carried on, both raising livestock and vegetation by ants. So why not the ability to produce and appreciate art for it's beauty by birds?
Every single behaviour the author examines in birds, he relates to evolution and people. I love that. I've never understood the non-evolutionists horror of our closest relatives being apes. I like the idea just as much that what we do isn't even original although we think it is, but that birds do it too, and we are all part of one great big interlinked world.
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 love birds and really enjoy learning about them, especially about bird behavior, so it was with great excitement that I agreed to review this book. And overall, it is enjoyable and educational, full of interesting facts and anecdotes, not only about birds but about numerous other animals, including humans.
I was disappointed, though, to see a scientist, who so lovingly describes bird behavior with a great eye for detail and nuance, fall back on unflattering generalizations about female humans, such as his statement that "males with more possessions and creativity are generally more likely to attract women" and some evolutionary biological discussion of men and women having been "segregated in their work," leading to a lack of fight-or-flight impulse in the latter. These statements were unnecessary, insulting, and distracting. Without them—and a fair number of unnecessary "he"s when referring to scientists—this would have been a really fantastic book.
I think 'The Thing with Feathers' is a terrible title, but the author Noah Strycker is a very lively writer. He clearly loves watching birds and learning from scientists why they behave as they do. I am not a bird watcher but I am loving reading about birds.
Strycker has found physicists love to study some birds because of their remarkable abilities flying in a group without crashing into each other. Other birds fascinate many scientists by their ability to navigate, like homing pigeons. Some birds are studied because they can remember where they cached seeds for the winter - at least 150 different locations, different places each Winter. And everybody loves the birds that dance - but are some dancing to music beats as they seemingly are doing so though? Or the birds who imitate machines, tools, cars as well as other birds, sometimes seemingly playing practical jokes on cats, dogs, people - but are they? Some birds recognize themselves in mirrors! Really? Really! A lot of bird species appear to be artists - or is it simply Darwinism artifacts at work as many of us humans assume it is from our position at our supposed top of the food chain? Then what exactly are we making art for, and why do we assume it is our superior abstraction abilities at work? Many hikers have come across artistic creations in the woods thinking a human artist was at work. Surprise! Not!
Is calling someone a "bird brain" a derogatory term as we humans believe? Or are we once again making assumptions of human superiority where there are few to be had?
Starlings fly about in a manner which is utterly hypnotic.
How? Answers are found in Part One - Body, the chapter "Spontaneous Order."
Nutcrackers are very intelligent and clever, but their most obvious and puzzling talent is how they are able to find their cached larders. A variety of tests have narrowed down what memorization techniques they are using. Strycker compares it to the 'memory palace' skills humans practice. But, hello, these are birds!
See Part Two - Mind, the chapter "Cache Memory."
Do birds "love" each other? Some say yes, others no. There seems to be a lust attraction followed by becoming a permanent couple with an extended family of children by some birds species, such as the Australian fairy-wrens. Or is it simply the "Prisoner's Dilemma" strategy of cooperation at work? Or do birds like or love each other?
See Part Three - Spirit, chapter "Fairy Helpers".
Thirteen species of birds are described by the author in this book. They are stunning! While there are hand drawings of the birds, which are very good, I did go to the Internet and YouTube as well to see the birds. The most surprising bird species? Hummingbirds! They are warriors! Omg. They would give the movie character Mad Max nightmares!
The book has an extensive Notes and Sources section, and an Index.
Una divulgazione di ottimo livello che non parla solo di uccelli e che può essere piacevole anche per i non-appassionati. Il capitolo più bello è l'ultimo (Cuori vagabondi: Gli albatri e l’amore: una questione complicata).
In un angolo remoto della colonia di West Point notai un paio di albatri sopraccigli neri che, in mezzo a tutta quella confusione, si concedevano un momento di tranquillità, apparentemente rapiti l’uno dalla presenza dell’altro. Uno stava seduto proprio sul loro nido e dalle soffici piume del petto faceva capolino la testa di un pulcino addormentato, che evidentemente sonnecchiava dopo un pasto completo. L’altro albatro si era rannicchiato accanto al partner e le loro teste si toccavano delicatamente. Quando uno respirava, l’altro si muoveva leggermente. Entrambi avevano gli occhi socchiusi, completamente rilassati. Davano l’impressione di una coppia di innamorati seduti su una panchina, l’uno appoggiato all’altro, intenti a guardare il tramonto sull’oceano; semplici puntini nelle pieghe del nostro universo, ma protetti, sicuri e contenti del posto che occupano nel mondo. In quel momento non contava nient’altro.
To tak naprawdę jest moja 40. książka, bo jedną czytałam co trzecie zdanie. To byłaby bardzo fajna książka, gdyby autor nie skrecał non stop w dygresje. Część o ptakach jest bardzo ciekawa. Ta z dygresjami - nie zawsze i niekoniecznie.
This could have been titled Birds and Philosophy. 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.)
This was a fairly light, entertaining read crafted by an ornithologist who has a flair with words about birds. Strycker keeps things fairly light, and although he gets into some incredible scientific studies about our feathered friends, never goes beyond the abilities of his average reader.
The book is structured into chapters that start with some personal anecdote about a particular bird species behavior, which the author then explores by discussing scientific research on the subject. He is always able to relate some of the aspects of the bird behavior to our own human behavior at some level, which makes things interesting without going too far into anthropomorphism.
I have had a particular fondness of corvids (crows, magpies, nutcrackers, etc.) the last few years, as the more I see of them in my semi-rural neighborhood, while hiking or camping, the more I admire their intelligent resourcefulness. Strycker spends a fair amount of time on these birds, due to their incredible intelligence, but he also explores for us: the homing abilities of pigeons, the pecking-order social hierarchies of chickens, and even the long-haul monogamy of the long-haul flying albatross.
This is well worth the read if you are at all interesting in animal intelligence or have a fondness for birds.
I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't trying to make any earth-shaking points, and most of the science was probably basic for people with a strong interest in ornithology. Still, it often had me exclaiming over what I read and wanting to share it with others. A Dickinson allusion in the title can't help but make a former English teacher smile as well. Strycker does a great job of mixing science facts, philosophical musings, and personal anecdotes to create a compelling read. I would have liked the various sections to connect to each other a bit more, but that's a tall order for a book of this type. The chapters on humming birds and bower birds were particularly revelatory for me. I wouldn't say they did anything to change my view of the world beyond showing that it's even more wondrous than I knew, or of humanity. That makes the subtitle seem a bit overblown, but people have to make a living. I would recommend this for people who like personal essays in the style of Annie Dillard (minus God), people who have feelings, people who like evolution, and people who think birding would be interesting if it didn't require going to inconvenient places at inconvenient times and holding really still for long stretches.
3.5 ⭐️ Dałabym tej książce 4 gwiazdki, gdyby nie nieco przydługie momenty, w których autor opisywał różne sytuacje nie związane z ptakami. Dla mnie było to raczej niepotrzebne, niewnoszące nic do głównego tematu tej książki. Było w niej za dużo dygresji, co nie zmienia faktu, że pozostała jej treść była jak najbardziej przyjemna. Największym jej plusem był ciekawy sposób ujęcia pewnych zagadnień przyrodniczych. Było to niezwykle intrygujące. Jeśli interesuje was temat ptaków i wszystkiego co z nimi związane, to jak najbardziej polecam sięgnąć!
I really enjoyed this book. If you are even remotely interested in bird behavior, I highly recommend it. or human and other smart animal behavior b/c he covers it all- art, love, memory, etc. Did you know the Aztec god of war was a hummingbird? If you read this book, you will know why. So good!
Autor bardzo dobrze rozłożył ilość informacji o każdych ptakach. Z każdego rozdziału można się czegoś ciekawego dowiedzieć, z jednej strony jest szczegółowo, ale z drugiej strony tekst jest na tyle skondensowany, że nigdy się nie męczyłem, a samą książkę się bardzo przyjemnie czytało zwłaszcza kiedy byłem na działce nad jeziorem wśród wielu ptaków, mogłem się poczuć jak zanurzony w książce. Jeżeli ktoś już czytał któraś z książek autora Wohllebena Petera to warto również sięgnąć po tą pozycję 👌🐦🦆
Each chapter in this book focuses on a certain bird behavior, most often that of a particular species, and explores that behavior in depth while relating it to human behavior and psychology. All of the chapters were interesting, and about half were incredibly fascinating.
I think what I found most interesting is how different bird species have evolved different types of intelligence and behaviors both in ways we don't understand and for reasons we don't necessarily understand. I'm really amazed by the navigation abilities of many species of birds, even when they are deprived of certain senses and intentionally disoriented by scientists. Even though I'm not a huge fan of starlings, their flocking and flying instincts are incredible. (Do a YouTube search for "starling murmuration" if you have never seen it.) I loved reading about all the intelligent behaviors of magpies and crows and that whole family. The nests that male bowerbirds build to woo females are amazing. (Again, do a google image search if you haven't seen these displays.) I really like the mating/courting/child rearing rituals of albatross.
Overall, the book was really accessible and easy to read. I found that it went into just enough detail so that I learned a lot, but I wasn't bored or overwhelmed with too much information.
My step-daughter gave this to me for my birthday. I wasn't sure I would like it and would never have chosen it to read. But I read it and it is wonderful. The author has been intrigued with birds since he was a child which resulted in his passion. His book explores a variety of birds with characteristics that are common to humans. The bowerbird is especially interesting. Is it an artist? It's courting behavior certainly is artistic. I first learned of this bird at an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. A human artist paints pictures of the bowerbird's very artistically arranged bowers. And then there is their are the birds who mate for life and have been seen caressing their beloved. (A couple of years ago I was following the Virginia Eagle Cam. The female got hit by a plane and her mate definatly mourned her passing. It was so, so sad to watch.)
Miałam ochotę na coś pokroju #sekretnezyciedrzew , znalazłam to. Fajna książka dla ludzi który chodź trochę interesują się ornitologią. Dla mnie po jakimś czasie zrobiła się tą książka nudna. Czuć, że autor ma pasje i chce nią zarażać innych, ale trochę to przypomina wykład naukowy "luźnego" nauczyciela. (3/10⭐)
A fascinating and well researched book studying the behaviors of specific bird species and the linkages to human behaviors. I was more interested in the birds than in the human aspects. Pigeons were analyzed for their remarkable homing instincts. As we know they have been used during wars to relay messages. They have been transported worldwide, released, and find their way home with incredible speed. Starlings are not indigenous to the U.S; they were introduced from Europe where many flocks are nearly extinct. They flock for protection, have acute spacial acuity, and conduct "murmuration" where they flock and fly across the sky in beautiful patterns. Turkey Vultures have a sense of smell but also need visual cues to find carrion. They smell mercaptans added to natural gas to give it a noxious odor and the bird often senses this as some type of decaying carcass. Snow Owls become nomads outside their normal habitats when lemming food supplies become scarce. They seem to gravitate to Boston and the Midwest in their search for food. Ebird.org is a data driven organization for tracking bird migration, unusual sightings, etc. by ornithologists. Hummingbirds are extremely territorial in the protection of their food source. In the average lifespan their hear beats 1.26 billion times. They do not mate for life. They rest at night by slowing their heart rate down to 50 beats/minute from 1200 in flight. Penguins have a fear of going into the ocean because of seals lurking waiting to eat them. Otherwise they seem to be quite trusting and have little fear of humans, etc. Parrots (and Asian elephants) have the ability to sense a beat in music. I loved the stories of Snowball and Frostie the dancing cockatoos on YouTube. Bird Lovers Only is a rescue shelter caring for neglected birds. Chickens have a hierarchy "pecking order" in a coop which rarely is challenged. Outsiders need to be introduced in pairs. The color red stimulates aggressive behavior in chickens. Nutcrackers have an amazing memory for thousands of locations where they hide buried seeds. Their memory is facilitated by physical cues in the landscape. Remove the cues and they are far less successful in finding their seeds. Magpies were exceptionally interesting. They are the world's smartest bird and among the top in the animal kingdom. They have self-awareness, self-recognition in a mirror, exhibit grieving, teasing, taunting, friendship and theft. Bowerbird is known for the males to design aesthetically pleasing and visual nests. The concept of what is art and how is it defined was explored. They have the ability to create forced perception of objects (stones, shells, plastics, etc) for their female visitors. The elaborate ground nests are created for courtship. Fairy-wrens are cooperative for the greater good and vast genetically related communities support generations of offspring. They are altruistic. Albatross mate for life yet independently travel about four million miles worldwide during their life time. They find their mate every one to three years. A very fun, educational read.
This book was so dull that I felt sleepy after reading it and delayed my review for it.
I read halfway then skimmed the rest..
Here's the thing, this book is not bad in itself, rather it's just that it's audience is different. Basically, if you're someone who really loves birds/animals, respects them, know quite a few scientific facts about them, know what threatens them, knows the common facts about them, then this book is NOT for you!
Another thing is that this book is very structured. Strycker splits the books into some 4-5 segments. Each segment are divided into chapters that focus on one bird. Each chapter begins with some real life experience. The first half of the middle is bird info. The second half is human info. Conclusion is the end result of the real life experience. It got boring and repetitive real fast. So if you're someone who hates rules, regulations, structure (like me), you're going to loathe this book.
Finally, the chapters focuses on some small aspect of the bird. For ex, when Strycker talked about penguins he mentioned how they essentially mob form around the tip of the ice berg waiting for one bird to fall in before they all jump. Now if you have the smallest info on penguins you will know why they do this. It's pretty straight forward. If you see a person inching toward the swimming pool, what's the first thing you tell them? But apparently Strycker doesn't think we know why and proceeds to tell us then mentions how humans also have this in them.
wow. amazing. The problem was that either he talked about common information or random mundane info that did not enhance my knowledge in the bird nor in humans.
TL;DR I GOT BORED. SO BORED MY EYELIDS COULD NO LONGER SUPPORT THEMSELVES.
I am the most amateurish of birdwatchers. I pat myself on the back when I see a cardinal or a bluejay. I can't tell the difference between a falcon and a hawk, much less distinguish between all the various kinds of sparrows. I know nothing about nests, habits, calls, or bird behavior. The Thing with Feathers was the perfect light reading. Strycker provides fun facts while keeping the tone friendly and accessible. Some of the chapters dealt with birds that everyone knows (penguins, chickens, pigeons) while others, such as the bowerbird and the fairywren, were unknown to me. I kept a smartphone by me so that I can google images and be wowed by the bowerbird's stunning and colorful homes or the fairywren's coloration.
For me, personally, I most enjoyed learning about the birds. Less interesting were the bits talking about how certain traits were analogous to human behavior. Hummingbirds have a heart rate of 1,200 beats per minute in flight. Human beings with lower resting heart rates generally live longer. Hummingbirds have a high rate of heart attacks. Ergo, human beings (although they should exercise) should live a leisurely life. To me, this isn't deep insight into human life. Instead, I was gratified to learn about hummingbird's strong, war-like nature when protecting territory, their mating habits, and their endless need for energy. Learning about the hummingbird was enough without extrapolating a human lesson.
However, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise enjoyable and engaging read.
A gem. This book isn't just a dry book about bird behavior. Rather, it is about human behavior, via what we know about birds; it is about what bird behavior can teach us about human behavior, and how what we know about humans can explain various bird behaviors. The author isn't just a bird expert; he appears to be very well versed in various disciplines such as evolution, brain science, and game theory.
Each chapter deals with a different bird species and a defining behavioral characteristic. For example, one chapter was about magpies and self-awareness; magpies are one of the few birds/animals that can pass the mirror test. Another was about the Australian fairy-wren, which share nests and help raise each other's young; the author includes an excellent discussion of what we have learned about game theory to explain what is otherwise an evolutionarily inexplicable behavior.
The book includes chapters about pigeons and sense of direction; starlings and spontaneous (emergent) order to explain the synchronous flying of starling flocks ("murmurations"); penguins and (lack of) fear; nutcrackers and memory; albatrosses and love, among others. Along the way are many interesting facts and factoids about birds, but more it is a book about ecology, evolution, psychology, social order, and brain science.
Unfortunately I did not find this book terribly entertaining or interesting. In fact I found it more a compilation of many of the cruelties inflicted upon birds in the name of science and just typical terrible human behavior (Just shoot the bird that turns up on the runway! Why not?). It really never fails to irritate me that people not only inflict animals with all of these experiments but do it to learn something about "ourselves" as if the act of doing it doesn't tell us something about ourselves. This was in fact one of my major issues with the book: the subtitle. Why can we not want to know about birds and other species we share the planet with just for the sake of knowing about them? Why does it always have to be about us?
Another issue I had with the book was that it came down to feeling essentially more like a term paper I would have been assigned in college considering most of the book was about experiments and their findings rather than the author's firsthand knowledge or discussion. The only reason I did not give this 1 star is that I did enjoy hearing about the birds even if much of it was not new to me and much of it just highlighted human cruelty.
Alright - all of you bird nerds - here's a book for you. It's educational, entertaining and filled with great facts to use at your next bird watching event or Trivial Pursuit game. Divided into three sections - Body, Mind and Spirit, Noah Strycker takes a look at 13 different bird species and provides information about a certain aspect of each of them them. He then compares that information to studies done on the same topic in humans - hence the subtitle of the book. It provides for a book that makes you think (and laugh a bit along the way) while you grab your birding glasses to go see for yourself. If you have any interest in birds, I highly recommend this book. And - if you ever decide to call me a bird brain - I'll take that as a huge compliment. Enjoy!
I was fortunate enough to attend two lectures by Noah Strycker at the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival this year. He's a dynamic speaker and is able to translate his speaking style into his writing. This book was fascinating and fun to read. It even made me more sympathetic to the starlings nesting in the tree next to my patio. This is a great read for anyone who is even marginally interested in birds and the natural world.
For someone that pretty much hates birds (me), I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this book. Well written, easy to digest essays about a variety of topics by bird. Not too in depth but informative enough to be worth it.
I would happily read another whole book like this, where each chapter delves into a specific aspect of a specific type of bird. I learned so many cool facts! Did you know that magpies hold funerals and can recognize themselves in mirrors? Or that there are birds in Australia that build and decorate tiny houses as part of their mating rituals, and another bird that practices collective care and communal child-rearing? Noah Strycker pulls off a perfect balance between narrative prose and scientific knowledge. I’m not sure that someone who isn’t already interested in birds would care about this book, but if you are interested in birds, it’s enthralling.
The Thing with Feathers is a book of stories about birds that you never knew and never expected, stories about the abilities of vultures and starlings and snowy owls and hummingbirds and penguins and parrots and nutcrackers and magpies and bowerbirds and fairy helpers and albatrosses, and all the surprising things they can do. If you want to know more about birds, you probably want to add this book to your list.