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

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  2,240 ratings  ·  350 reviews
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 Str
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 20th 2014 by Riverhead Books (first published January 1st 2014)
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Jessica There is an illustration at the beginning of every chapter showing the bird to be discussed therein. There is also one diagram to help describe chicke…moreThere is an illustration at the beginning of every chapter showing the bird to be discussed therein. There is also one diagram to help describe chicken pecking orders.(less)

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Petra-X
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 decora
...more
Zola
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I can't even handle that Noah Strycker is my age and he's already written two books about birds I AM WASTING MY LIFE
Jaylia3
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 h ...more
Coral
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, sexist
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,
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Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 po
...more
Ian
Aug 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 alwa
...more
Charlie
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 t ...more
Ashley Seymour
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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!
Katie
Aug 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Sylvia
May 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Patricia
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ornithologists; science; animal behaviorist
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 n
...more
John Kaufmann
Jun 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Angie
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
My, the incredibly terrible things we do to animals in the name of "science." Lots of great stories about things like the clipping of magnetic nerves in pigeons to see if they can find their way home afterwards. Or stabbing vultures in the eyes to blind them to see if they have a sense of smell. Or you can just stuff something into their nares to see if it affects their search for food. Or just, you know, shooting a snowy owl just because it happened to land on a landing strip in Hawaii. Or you ...more
Julie
Apr 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Drew
May 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mcl
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.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, science, animals
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.
Marija S.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: birds
This is one of those intelligent and informative books that talk about everything in a conversational tone with just the right amount of philosophical reflections.
Jen
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Writing was a bit disjointed, but I learned a lot of nifty things.
R K
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
ugh.........

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
...more
Sooj
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
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, pige ...more
Nikki
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 ourse ...more
Rebecca Knight
Great read! Loved it, loved the humorous style and the scientific approach to cool questions about birds, humans, behaviors, culture, love, food, and everything else. This book has so much packed in it, and with such an easy flow, it was continuous fun. I liked the layout of the whole book, in three main sections - mind, body, and spirit. And I really liked how each chapter was stand-alone and self-contained, you can just pick it up anywhere, and read one chapter if you want. Each chapter focuse ...more
Bob
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Since long before I was born, my family was interested in, and protective of, birds. Especially Barn Swallows and Bluebirds. I've continued the tradition by building birdhouses, too many to count or keep track of. As of a few years ago I figured out I have built about 3,000 and the number is considerably higher, now.

So when I saw this book on Goodreads a while back, I was immediately interested.

Birds are astonishing in a million ways. Far more ways than anybody really knows about. How do they do
...more
Erma
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Thing with Feathers gives a fascinating glimpse of the lives and habits of our feathered friends, from tiny hummingbirds to buzzards. Strycker uses research and personal observation to explore the uncanny abilities of birds: the homing instinct of pigeons, the altruism of fairy-wrens, the incredible flocking ability of starlings, the artistry of bowerbirds, the musical sense of parrots, the memory of nutcrackers, and the fidelity of albatrosses. He relates these human-like traits to our own. ...more
Matthew Davis
Jul 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great read- thank you Noah! Accessible writing about cool bird knowledge woven in with his firsthand experiences and insights into what our understanding of bird behavior means for us as people. And although I knew some of the facts (Clark's nutcrackers have amazing spatial memories, etc.) before reading the book, the context and meaning he brings to them all made them novel and more memorable for me.
Suzanne
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you have even the slightest interest in the lives of birds, this is a book you want to read! It tells completely fascinating stories about various birds---how starlings swarm, why penguins are scared of water, how magpies can recognize themselves in mirrors---and lots more! The author writes in such an accessible and informed-without-lecturing way. Just a wonderful read.
Melissa
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction
I really wanted to like this. And I might have. But a few incredibly asinine comments about women made me question any and all expertise the author might have in human behaviour, and so called into question both his thesis and his expertise in animal behaviour as well. It’s a shame when just a few poorly drawn and offensive parallels can ruin an entire book for you, but here we are.
Michael
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
GREAT BOOK! I still think about how good this book was.
Mary Amato
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ornithology
Striker's writing style is terrific. Makes non-fiction fun to read. Tons of interesting anecdotes and studies cited.
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