Bird Way : A New Look At How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, And Think by Jennifer Ackerman
View book: Bird Way : A New Look At How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, And Think
From the best-selling author of “The Genius of Birds,” comes a groundbreaking exploration into the fascinating world of birds and the groundbreaking scientific research that is revolutionizing our understanding of their behavior. While mammals have their own unique ways of living, birds possess a completely different pattern of brain wiring and manner of existence.
Scientists have long dismissed certain bird behaviors as anomalies or mysteries, but recent studies have revealed that these behaviors defy our traditional beliefs about how birds live, communicate, forage, court, breed, and survive. This newfound knowledge is shedding light on the astonishing intelligence that underlies their actions – abilities that were once thought to be exclusively human.
Not only do birds exhibit intriguing qualities such as deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, and infanticide, but they also engage in remarkable acts of communication, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play. Some of these bewildering behaviors challenge the very essence of being a bird – like a mother bird killing her own offspring or selflessly caring for the young of other birds as if they were her own.
Birds are capable of extraordinary partnerships, working with one species (specifically, humans) in an extraordinary way, while parasitizing another in a gruesome manner. They engage in gifting and stealing, dancing and drumming, painting their creations or even their own bodies. Birds construct walls of sound to protect their territory and call upon playmates with a unique signal, which may hold the key to understanding our own inclination for playfulness and the evolution of laughter.
Jennifer Ackerman, drawing on her own personal observations, global bird-watching adventures, and the latest scientific findings, demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to bird behavior. Birds vary significantly in their plumage, physical form, melodic songs, flight patterns, lifestyle choices, ecological niches, and actions. As renowned biologist E.O. Wilson once said, observing just one bird is not enough to comprehend the diversity and complexity of these remarkable creatures.
Bird Intelligence: Unveiling the Astonishing Minds of Avian Species
It’s truly fascinating to be here and among such an amazing group of people. Many of us have been paying more attention to birds in our yards and gardens recently. I’ve been a bird lover since my childhood, when my father and I used to go bird-watching in Washington DC. I always enjoyed finding and identifying birds, and it sparked my curiosity about their behavior and intelligence. As a science writer, I delved into the world of bird science and made some thrilling discoveries.
Previously, birds were often considered simple creatures guided solely by instinct, with small and primitive brains capable only of basic mental processes. However, our understanding of birds and their brains has undergone a dramatic shift in the past decade. We now know that birds possess astonishing mental abilities and can think logically, reason, and solve complex problems. They exhibit cognitive skills similar to our primate relatives, proving that calling someone a “bird brain” is no longer an insult.
Birds have shown us that they can make and use complex tools, understand basic principles of physics, and have cultural traditions. They form complex social networks, remember relationships, and even exhibit forms of communication that resemble language. Some birds possess astonishing memories, surpassing our own abilities to remember locations. Although birds have small brains, their density of neurons plays a significant role in their intelligence. Parrots and corvids have more neurons in their brains than similarly sized primates or mammals, indicating a different kind of intelligence.
Examples of Bird Intelligence
Let’s explore three examples of bird intelligence that have enlightened us about the varied types of intelligence in the bird world.
The New Caledonian crow, found only on a remote island, has showcased its ability to make and use tools, rivaling the tool-making skills of primates. These crows fashion hook tools to extract insects from tree holes. What’s more fascinating is that different populations of these crows have their own distinct tool-making styles, which are passed down from adults to the young, exhibiting cultural transmission.
African Grey parrots, like Alex, have showcased their intellectual abilities by understanding hundreds of words, grasping abstract concepts like zero, and demonstrating basic mathematical skills. They also excel in mimicry, often using it to play tricks on their human companions.
Male bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea have shown us their artistic abilities in crafting elaborate structures called bowers to attract mates. These bowers are not nests but rather seduction theaters adorned with ornaments and objects carefully arranged by the birds, exhibiting incredible artistry and creativity.
Aside from these examples, birds possess other remarkable mental skills, such as their impressive spatial navigation abilities during migration and their natural equivalent of compasses and GPS systems. Studying bird intelligence offers valuable insights into how our own brains work, including topics like sleep, language learning, and the evolution of speech.
What makes these discoveries truly exciting is the opportunity to understand how another creature thinks and what it teaches us about intelligence itself. By appreciating birds as intelligent, innovative, and thoughtful creatures, we can broaden our perspectives on different forms of intelligence in the natural world beyond our own understanding.
As we marvel at birds’ resilience and resourcefulness, we can learn valuable lessons from them, particularly in navigating challenging circumstances. Birds adapt, innovate, and collaborate, demonstrating the power of cooperation and the importance of observing their behaviors. By tuning into their remarkable ways of being, we can gain wisdom from their still mysterious and marvelous existence.
Thank you to all the individuals who contributed images to this article, and let’s continue to appreciate and learn from the incredible world of birds.