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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 (65 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $27.95
Kindle Price: $11.99
You Save: $15.96 (57%)
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 scientists come to understand more about the secrets of bird life, they are unlocking fascinating insights into memory, 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 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. With humor, style, and grace, he shows how our view of the world is often, and remarkably, through the experience of birds.

Beautiful and wise, funny and insightful, The Thing with Feathers is a gripping and enlightening journey into the lives of birds.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for The Thing with Feathers

“[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

“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

“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

About the Author

Noah Strycker has studied birds in some of the world’s most extreme environments, and is associate editor of the American Birding Association’s flagship magazine, Birding. His previous book, Among Penguins, describes a summer studying penguins in an isolated Antarctic field camp. Strycker writes, lectures, and lives near Eugene, Oregon, between field seasons.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 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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25 of 26 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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17 of 17 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 I liked the book so much I will buy additional copies ...
You can read the publisher's details about subject matter and writing critique. Simply put, I liked the book so much I will buy additional copies to give as gifts.
Published 7 days ago by collin
5.0 out of 5 stars Best nature book I have ever read
Best nature book I have ever read . Easy to read and yet full of good information .
Published 19 days ago by Martin Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book!
Published 28 days ago by Martha M. Shuford
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning about all of the things birds know and do makes it look like...
Lots of interesting information in this book about birds and how they live. Learning about all of the things birds know and do makes it look like they could be the next most... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joan S. Hendricks
5.0 out of 5 stars eschewing all ideas about spirituality as irrelevant at best and...
The Thing With Feathers: Noah Strycker

Whether he can trace his genetic lineage back to a Biblical ancestor or because of his masterful acquisition of ornithological... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lowell H. Young
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
bought as a gift,
Published 1 month ago by R Ringley
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly dumbed down.
I'm not sure about the author's intended audience. I had expected a bit more scientific "meat" to the book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alfred J. Padilla
5.0 out of 5 stars The wonder and intelligence of birds
I received a free copy of this book through a giveaway. I am embarrassed by how long it has taken me to write a review, but the delay resulted from taking a long... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Phyllis Wilson
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm so disappointed in this book
I'm so disappointed in this book. It looked like it was going to have lots of information about the latest studies of bird habits. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rosey
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great service and product!
Published 1 month ago by Mary Kay Howard
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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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