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The Genius of Birds

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,838 Ratings  ·  634 Reviews
Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. According to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores their newly discovered brilliance and how it came about.

As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of researc
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by Penguin Press
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Annie According to her website, she graduated cum laude from Yale with a B.A. in English.

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Petra X
I read this over Christmas mostly because a customer ordered four copies saying it was brilliant and would make great gifts. So since I liked Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven and his other books on ravens, owls and geese, I prepared to meet another 5-star natural history book. But I was disappointed.

Not very. It's still a 4 star (just) read. But although it is science-based, to some extent, it is full of unproven theories and anecdotes, some of which are very charming and some which belabour t
Cathrine ☯️
3.75 🧠 🧠 🧠 🧠 s
What a birdbrain? Awk! After reading this book I cry Fowl! I wont use that term or think of the birds visiting my feeders in the same way again, especially the jays and pigeons.
Bird fanciers should enjoy this but you needn’t be an enthusiast to appreciate much of the content within. My favorite chapters were on navigation and caching skills.
Some things to crow about:
● Size does matter to the ladies: Give a hen a giant egg to sit on (even artificial) and she prefers it to smaller on
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvelous book about the intelligence of birds. In this book, Jennifer Ackerman describes a wide range of bird species, brain sizes and capabilities. Bird brains, in size relative to body weight, are similar to those of mammals. Of course, in absolute terms they are small, as their total weight must be minimal in order to fly. I learned so much from this book. I had no idea about some of the capabilities of our feathered friends.

The smartest birds appear to be crows, ravens, and parrot
Richard Derus
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Rating: 4.5* of five, rounded down for jargoneering

I voted for this book in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. It deserves ever one of its stars! I was fascinated by the breadth of the study's scope. I was impressed by Ackerman's lucidity of prose, despite the (inevitable, I suppose) use of a lot of scientific jargon.

I've been a bird fancier since the first time I saw a Baltimore oriole's nest in 1967. In fact, after the birds had raised their chicks and migrated north again, I scaled (for the on
aPriL does feral sometimes
Why did I read a book like ‘Genius of Birds? I walk a few times a week for exercise, but because it was boring to do so on a treadmill, I chose to walk outside. At first, I had earbuds for listening to music and audiobooks jammed into my ears most of the time because I assumed it would be a little dull walking outside too. But eventually I realized I was hearing birdsong all over the place. I wondered what kind of birds were making those sounds. I identified:


Douglas Wilson
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Full of fascinating details of the incredible mental processes of various kinds of birds. Just a delight. The reason for four stars instead of five is the running commentary that assumes evolution in the background, which had the disconcerting effect of making the reader think that Ackerman was telling us a bunch of true and stupefying things, but was not paying any attention to just how amazing they were.

Darwinism is not just a house of cards -- it is an inverted house of cards, with the apex o
Mar 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arcs, giveaways, 4-stars
I found The Genius of Birds to be both enjoyable and illuminating, especially with regard to the similarities between avian and human behavior, morphology, and evolution. Jennifer Ackerman conveys complex scientific information in a completely approachable way, which I really appreciated, since I am an absolute novice when it comes to birds: I can recognize a robin or chickadee by sight, and I keep a bird feeder in my backyard, but I certainly can't distinguish birds by sound or nest structure ...more
The insult “bird brain” has always bothered me—how exactly is this insulting? I suppose if the only birds you are familiar with are domestic chickens and turkeys, you might think it’s appropriate, but if you’ve ever studied wild birds, you’ll know that it’s completely off the mark. Detailed observation of the domestic fowl might change your mind, too.

Think of the hummingbird—with a brain smaller than a pea, it manages to migrate long distances and maintain detailed mental maps of nectar sources
The narrator of the audiobook frequently mispronounces words. For example, hypo-campus instead of hippocampus. I quickly switched to the ebook, and I'm happy that I did. John Burgoyne's illustrations, especially the cover, are lovely. He also illustrated Dog Songs by Mary Oliver.

Thumbs up to the author for including references, citations, and a useful index. The Genius of Birds is mainly summaries of other people's research; most of which I was already familiar with. I would have preferred more
La La
This book is brilliant! It doesn't read like a traditional science textbook, but rather like sitting down with a knowledgeable person and having coffee and a good conversation about a mutually loved subject. The personal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the text make it a smooth and enjoyable read. I didn't want to put it down until I was finished.

I was approved for an eARC, via Netgalley, in return for an honest review.
Atila Iamarino
Um daqueles livros legais de ler pelas curiosidades que ele vai contando, na mesma linha do Are We Smart Enough.

Ackerman tirou o livro para mostrar como tem uma série de comportamentos entre aves que mostram que elas sabem muito mais do que parece. Com mais câmeras, mais cientistas e mais pessoas filmando e compartilhando o comportamento dos bichos, estamos tendo muito mais chances de saber o que os animais fazem. Quem mais iria acreditar que corvos fazem snowboarding se não fosse pelo YouTube?
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.
This was an interesting book! I had been anticipating a book that described the intelligence and behaviors of birds to be a very dull read. I was wrong ... this was such an easy read that I just couldn't put it down. The author did a great job in introducing the attributes of birds from tool making, social networking, vocal ability and much more. I learned a lot and will never look at a bird in my yard the same way again.
Feb 15, 2016 added it
The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman is a gamechanger for the way in which the curious reader will think concerning birds. Perhaps you thought birds were cute but not very bright, for example. Get ready to change your mind when you read in chapter one about "007", a corbid (kind of crow from New Caledonia), who goes through 8 steps, using tools, within two and a half minutes to get to a piece of food, after one scrutiny of this puzzle. Many types of birds are very smart, in the manner which ...more
Lyn Elliott
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jennifer Ackerman’s book on bird intelligence is brilliant. Tim Low, no mean slouch as a bird man, writes in the foreword: Her engaging survey of recent findings about bird acumen delivers so many surprises it ends up a revelation’. It certainly was revelatory for me.

Ackerman starts out with the idea of ‘genius’. It’s ‘the knack for knowing what you’re doing – for “catching on” to your surroundings, making sense of things, and figuring out how to solve your problems. In other words, it’s a flair
May 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: birds-birding
I'm a birder so I wanted to like this. The author reminded me of a kid writing a term paper and padding things trying to get to the minimum page limit. Just in the intro, she remarked 6 or 7 times about birds who cached their food and could find it later. Enough already.

There were some interesting studies and stories, but I found myself skimming most of the book to get past the tedious parts.

One chapter talked about birds creating elaborately decorated nests. Some photos would have been nice--he
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
One must be a major devotee of birds to love this book. It is well researched and written: exploring avian intelligence, mating, migration, cognition, and evolution. It had a particularly elegant section on the dangers of anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics to animals. However, my major criticism of the book was that it was guilty of the very thing it warned against.
Nov 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Ackerman is a good science writer. She gives negative examples, she explains about how some interpretations of data can be made to say 'oh look!' or can be explained away with a "killjoy" conclusion. She understands the scientific method of random sampling, control group, etc. She knows that there are lots and lots of unanswered questions, and insufficient data to be assured of the theories of those we think we probably have answered.

But still, she's a journalist, not a scientist. There are so m
May 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: biology
Studying birds in evolutionary bio was so eye opening. I loved to learn about how females choose males, how males use song to compete with other males, how each sex fights off other birds who want to have sex with their mate, how bower birds build intricate structures to woo the females, how jays brilliantly hide their treasures and use Machiavellian trickery, etc.

This book was well researched but I think only bird watchers or true bird lovers could fall in love with this book. It was too dry f
This is an excellent short book full of many tales of "intelligent" birds, as well as discussion of what is meant by that. Birds are fascinating creatures, very different from us, but also similar in many ways. Their cognitive abilities range from very high level navigation, to amazing singing and vocal mimicry, to tool making, art, and more. The author gives many examples of each, and explains the many experiments done to test such abilities, as well as the limitations on each. She also describ ...more
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, netgalley, kindle
The Genius of Birds is a striking book in many ways, from the gorgeous cover, to the facts and information that Ackerman conveys to the reader, to the whole new way the reader will look at and appreciate birds after reading this excellent book. The author begins by defining the many ways intelligence or genius is manifested in birds, the difficulties scientists encounter in measuring it, and then goes on to write about some of the incredible things that birds are capable of. New Caledonian crows ...more
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
This lovely book took me a while to get through because I didn't want to rush the reading, or gloss over all of the marvelous facts Ackerman painstakingly presents.

The author's love and respect for our feathered friends is obvious in her summaries of quirks, personalities, and proclivities of birds. There are scientific facts, anecdotes, summaries, and observations of the level of intelligence and the sheer ingenuity of birds and how they reach their goals.

While this is not a novel, it is ver
Michael Livingston
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
A snappily written summary of recent scientific findings demonstrating the remarkable intelligence of a variety of bird species, including tool-making and use by crows, identification of patterns by pigeons, incredible feats of navigation and on and on. It's probably not a book that's going to completely draw in the non-bird nerd, but it's compelling, entertaining and readable.
Charming study of the behaviors of birds. At times, the book is an information dump, where the author just summarizes recent scientific papers, one after another, but many of the anecdotes and stories are interesting.
Jul 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this lovely book. It's a nice blend of science and anecdote, which makes it very readable, even if you're not an ornithologist (I have a zoology degree, but I'm not an ornithologist). The shift in thinking about the bird brains since the 1990's is significant. Previous to then, it was thought that bird brains were quite primitive in comparison to mammal brains. New research shows that to be not at all the case. It also reminded me of the importance of staying current in my field ...more
ally  ¯\(ツ)/¯
This book has some really neat and interesting facts, like smart vultures in Zimbabwe that figured out that if they perch on barbed wire fences near minefields, they just have to wait for dinner to explode. I also found it really neat that the amount of dee dee's in a chickadee-dee-dee's call have significance and indicate the size and threat of a nearby predator.

Where this book falls short for me was in authors original content. Literally 1/3 of this book is citations from other researcher's wo
Leo Walsh
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm not sure why Jennifer Ackerman's The Genius of Birds bored me at times. Since I love birds, biology and cognitive science. But while the book blurb promises to survey the amazing field of bird cognition, it often reads like a David Attenborough nature series on PBS, with Ackerman flitting from bird to bird interspersed with interviews from scientists. Worse, the science is sort of old-hat if you watch PBS's nature and science programming as well.

Still, the book does a great exploration of b
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I love birds, am fascinated by them, so I was looking forward to this book so much. I got to about page 65 before I admitted that I was never going to finish it. I was just so BORED with the style, the endless citation of studies. I wanted a chatty book with examples and anecdotes but instead, this book read like a thesis. So disappointing.
Fernando del Alamo
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Hasta ahora se ha pensado que los pájaros eran esos animalillos encantadores y un tanto "tontos" (dicho de forma cariñosa). La realidad es totalmente diferente: algunos son muy muy listos y actúan como nosotros, teniendo cerebros bastante grandes para sus dimensiones y con unas capacidades que sorprenden. El libro trata a los pájaros desde todos los puntos de vista: su orientación, su alimentación, su adaptación incluso a las ciudades, etc.

Muy interesante, aunque puede que alguna parte se haya h
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
If you’ve read much about animal intelligence, most of the stuff in this book won’t be all that surprising, though of course since it’s entirely about birds, it includes a lot more anecdotes and bird-focused studies. As a whole, the book definitely makes a case for birds as specialised, well adapted, and very intelligent in their own spheres. We won’t be having philosophical discussions with them any time soon, though, if that’s what you thought ‘genius’ meant. And I think honestly that Ackerman ...more
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Een heel interessant boek dat goed uiteenzet op welke manieren vogels bijzondere eigenschappen hebben en wat de problemen zijn met die te bestuderen. Ook wordt goed uitgelegd waar we tegen aanlopen als mensen wanneer we intelligentie van andere dieren te onzderzoeken.
De schrijfstelijl zelf vond ik echter niet alrijd geweldig, maar dat lag ook grotendeels aan de vertaling geloof ik.
Het woord kek zou niet serieus gebruikt moeten worden wanneer je een vogel of een nest omschrijft.
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Jennifer Ackerman's most recent book is Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body. Her previous books include Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity, and Notes from the Shore. A contributor to National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, her articles and essays have been included in several anthologies, among them Best American Science W ...more
“Surprising,” says Lefebvre, “but reassuring in a way: At least we found one test that grassquits do well. If one of the species you’re using in your experiment fails every test you give it, the problem may be you, the researcher, not the animal. You may have failed to understand what is relevant to the way a bird sees the world.” 0 likes
“Instead, each bird is interacting with up to seven close neighbors, making individual movement decisions based on maintaining velocity and distance from fellow flock members and copying how sharply a neighbor turns, so that a group of, say, four hundred birds can veer in another direction in a little over half a second. What emerges is almost instantaneous ripples of movement in what appears to be one living curtain of bird.” 0 likes
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