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Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur (t) Hardcover
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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Montgomery gives herself over so wholeheartedly to animals, and other humans who share her passion for creatures both rare and ubiquitous, that her nature chronicles are uniquely radiant. Mammals, from tigers to dolphins, bears, and one very special pig, have been her specialty, but birds have always fascinated her, hence this gathering of stirring avian encounters. Montgomery assists a hummingbird rehabilitator in the delicate raising of two tiny orphans, and meets the “most dangerous bird on earth,” the enormous, razor-clawed cassowary in Australia, one bird whose dinosaur ancestry is blazingly apparent. She also writes from unexpected perspectives about falcons, crows, pigeons, chickens, and parrots, each intriguing tale illustrating one of the “seven essential truths about birds,” and all revealing fresh insights about birds, interspecies communications, and environmental concerns. Inspired equally by all that we share with birds—similarities in intelligence, emotion, language, and music—and all that is mysterious (birds “remain fundamentally wild”), Montgomery expresses profound appreciation for the living web of life in a book that both bird lovers and readers new to bird lore will find evocative, enlightening, and uplifting. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“An original, even brilliant, account of seven species of birds—their fundamental strangeness and their strange familiarity….I have learned something from every chapter.” --Living Bird
“[E]vocative, enlightening, and uplifting." –Booklist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Birdology isn't a natural history of birds or observations of them in the wild. Ironically, most of the birds Montgomery meets live in captivity of some sort, from her chickens (the "Ladies") to hawks used for falconry (only the cassowaries were truly wild birds). In fact, each chapter seems to focus both on a different species of bird and a person who knows it well, such as a pigeon racer or hummingbird vet.
I had mixed feelings about this. Obviously, birds are at their fullest in the wild, and that's where it would really be great to see them. At times, Birdology feels a bit too much like a book about "people and their birds." On the other hand, focusing on these particular birds allows Montgomery to really get to know them well and provide detailed observations. For example, after years of watching her hens in her backyard, she has noticed that certain personality traits are passed from one generation to the next - what we would call culture. Chicken culture - imagine that!
While Montgomery loves her birds, she resists the temptation to anthropomorphize them. In fact, the best parts of Birdology discuss how birds are different from humans in ways we don't yet fully appreciate. Many birds still have strong instinctual impulses, from the gull chicks who incessantly peck at red objects to the overwhelming urge birds of prey have to hunt (known as "yarak"). She also suggests Alex, the famous African Grey Parrot, had trouble learning some colors because parrot vision recognizes a broader spectrum of colors than does our own.
I do wish Montgomery had chosen more birds to profile, especially when the goal of her book is to give readers some sense of what it means to be a bird. Some of the stories of the more familiar birds have been told in different forms elsewhere. For example, the discussion of Alex the Parrot is also the subject of Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process. Others birds, such as pigeons and crows, are fascinating if not exotic. It would have been nice for example to have had a chapter on penguins, a very different type of bird, or the great wandering albatrosses (the subject of Carl Safina's wonderful Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival). There are so many types of birds - over 10,000 species - so it's impossible to cover them all, but I definitely felt there was room in the book for a few more.
Reading Birdology, one gets the feeling that it would be really fun to just be Sy Montgomery. Some of the relationships she's had with birds are truly magical. She doesn't just describe the birds, but also tries to share how it felt emotionally to be in the presence of such wonderful animals. I thought it fascinating for example to hear her describe the hawk as master and the human handling it as the servant. For those of us who haven't been able to spend much time with birds, Birdology conveys that sense of wonder.
Note: If you want a straight up natural history of birds, I might suggest David Attenborough's The Life of Birds or Colin Tudge's The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live. The latter is a bit dry, but comprehensive.