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

Noah Strycker
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $11.67
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

An entertaining and profound look at the lives of birds, illuminating their surprising world—and deep connection with humanity.
Birds are highly intelligent animals, yet their intelligence is dramatically different from our own and has been little understood. As we learn more about the secrets of bird life, we are unlocking fascinating insights into memory, relationships, game theory, and the nature of intelligence itself.

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 albatrosses, and other mysteries—revealing why birds do what they do, and offering a glimpse into our own nature.

Drawing deep from personal experience, cutting-edge science, and colorful history, Noah Strycker spins captivating stories about the birds in our midst and shares the startlingly intimate coexistence of birds and humans. With humor, style, and grace, he shows how our view of the world is often, and remarkably, through the experience of birds. You’ve never read a book about birds like this one.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Birds are fascinating, and the more we humans study them, the more similarities we find between ourselves and our feathered neighbors. Strycker, editor of Birding magazine and author (Among Penguins, 2011), here combines the latest in ornithological science with snippets of history and his own vast experience in the field to hatch a thoroughly entertaining examination of bird behavior. Some avian behaviors don’t apply to humans—the almost magical homing abilities of pigeons, the incredible sense of smell of turkey vultures (as tested by the teenage author with the cooperation of a very dead deer and his extremely tolerant parents)—but many seemingly incredible bird actions have parallels in our own lives. Fairy wrens are cooperative breeders and show us one reason humans so often collaborate. The famous pecking order seen in domestic chickens certainly is evident in office politics, and magpies have often been seen holding impromptu funerals for their deceased flock mates. A sulphur-crested cockatoo named Snowball dances in synchrony to his favorite Backstreet Boys CD, leading to a discussion of the role of music for both birds and humans. Birds are equally alien and familiar, and in Strycker’s absorbing survey, we find out how much fun it is simply to watch them. --Nancy Bent


Praise for The Thing with Feathers

"Mr. Strycker has the ability to write about the worlds of man and fowl without simplifying either.... He thinks like a biologist but writes like a poet, and one of the small pleasures of The Thing With Feathers is watching him distill empirical research into lyrical imagery.... Part the palm fronds behind his sentences, and you can almost see the British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough standing there in a pith helmet, smiling with amused approval at Mr. Strycker's off-center sensibility." – Wall Street Journal

The Thing With Feathers turns a shrewd, comparative eye on a succession of bird families to explore what [Strycker] calls their ‘human’ characteristics…This is an engaging work which illuminates something profound about all life, including our own.” – The Economist

"Lovely, provocative..." – Robert Krulwich, NPR

"Fascinating" – Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"One of the best bird books you’ll read this decade. Guaranteed." -- BirdWatching

The Things With Feathers will encourage you to take a closer look at the natural world around you, and perhaps learn more not only about what you see but who you are." – Seattle Times

“[Strycker] combines the latest in ornithological science with snippets of history and his own vast experience in the field to hatch a thoroughly entertaining examination of bird behavior… In Strycker’s absorbing survey, we find out how much fun it is simply to watch them.” – Booklist, STARRED

“[Strycker’s] prose is difficult to stop reading.” – Publishers Weekly

“A delightful book with broad appeal.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A dazzling variety of avian subjects, including connections between birds and humans.” – Library Journal

“There’s bird watching, then there is obsessing over why nearly 2,500 different species do the things they do. That’s Noah Strycker, and this lovely book is compelling to those that chart the different birds they see on walks, and the rest of us who just gaze longingly at them as they fly through the air.” – Flavorwire

“Noah Strycker explores the increasing likelihood that birds enjoy a vastly richer intellectual, emotional and even artistic life than we smug humans have ever suspected. Read this book.” – Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind and The First Frontier

"As the 'owner' of a dancing Green-cheeked Conure, as a life-long pigeon-lover, seabird researcher, and falcon enthusiast, I can tell you that not only is this book full of solid information—I expected that—but as a writer I am astonished at how loose and easy Noah Strycker has made the reading for us. This is an insightful and wonderfully companionable book. I can’t wait to read more from Strycker; meanwhile we have this gem."  – Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point.

“A thoughtful, engaging book, encompassing pigeon races, physics, vulture baiting, the Backstreet Boys, and a mathematical model applicable to both tennis rankings and chicken hierarchies—a work of dazzling range, nimbly written.” – Brian Kimberling, author of Snapper

“I’ve read books about birds all of my life and this is the one I’ve been waiting for. Birds have a great deal to teach us. Strycker loves birds, understands their magic and mystery, and can extrapolate from their behavior wisdom for us all. At last we have a book worthy of this subject.” – Mary Pipher, author of The Green Boat


Product Details

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Philosophy of Birds March 20, 2014
This could have been titled Birds and Philosophy. Author 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.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
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 read an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing. The opinions are mine.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Imagine So March 20, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When I first saw the title of Noah Strycker's book, The Thing with Feathers, I immediately thought of the Emily Dickinson poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers". Like Dickinson, Strycker, sees the study of birds as a way to understand ourselves--that their behavior can tell us much about human behavior. This parallel is what helps make The Thing with Feathers such an imaginative mix of personal observation, avian history, and hard science.

Take, for example, a flock, or murmuration, of starlings. Who has not witnessed the strange collective flight of these blackbirds and not asked: how can they do that? According to Strycker the answer lies in using stereoscopic triangulation (the same technology used for the "Hawkeye" instant replay in tennis) to study the patterns created by starling mass flight. One especially surprisingly result of this study concerns how the starlings are able to coordinate direction by remembering the movements of its nearest seven flock members. This trait, according to the author, may well be shared by humans. Earlier studies concerning human memory consistently show that we can only remember about seven items, a "cognitive limitation" that we seem to share with starlings.

It is these types of comparisons, coupled with its author's whimsical sense of humor (for instance, in his introduction, Strycker imagines what might happen if birds watched us!) that make the book so compelling and so original in its perspective. Does the behavior of birds indeed mirror our own? After reading The Things with Feathers, I imagine so.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a fun book. Worth the purchase just for the chapter ...
Such a fun book. Worth the purchase just for the chapter on hummingbirds! I jest, but it is truly delightful throughout if you're a bird or nature-lover. Read more
Published 2 days ago by CSt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great book
Published 2 days ago by Jim Lee
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and fascinating.
Well written and fascinating, this book will make anyone with an interest in bird behavior look upon our winged neighbors with renewed admiration and awe. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Matthew Karns
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST ever book on birds!!!!!!
This is the BEST!!! I've read a lot of books about birds, and even though most have been full of information, studiously presented, competently written... Read more
Published 22 days ago by moose pal
4.0 out of 5 stars very fun to read
For bird watchers or not...very fun to read, lots of amazing facts
Published 1 month ago by Nathalie
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
interesting comparing bird behavior with human behavior.
Published 1 month ago by M Mort.
4.0 out of 5 stars like other animals
Fascinating read showing that birds, like other animals, have greater abilities/intellect than humans have long given them credit for.
Published 1 month ago by Spirited Writer
2.0 out of 5 stars Disorganized.
A disorganized rambling narrative, information about animals, humans, some about birds. Maybe the second was better. I'll never know.
Published 1 month ago by Neil M Berg
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous read. Very enjoyable and informative with a light ...
Fabulous read. Very enjoyable and informative with a light sense of humor. Definitely worth treating yourself to this delightful book. You won't be able to put it down.
Published 2 months ago by Michelle L Combs
5.0 out of 5 stars There are fascinating facts about many of our favorite birds that were...
Bird lovers will appreciate this very well written and researched book. There are fascinating facts about many of our favorite birds that were fun to learn. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Julia K. Wade
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More About the Author

Noah Strycker, 28, is living an adventurous life of birds. Noah's first book, "Among Penguins" (2011) describes a season in a rugged Antarctic field camp. His second book, "The Thing With Feathers," about the fascinating world of bird behavior, was released in March 2014.

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