A few years ago I became one of those (some may say) weird people who are fascinated with birds. You know, the kind that you see pulled over on a country road gawking at something in a field, or in a big group of blandly dressed folks all wearing binoculars, or stopped in the middle of a trail pointing a camera with a giant lens up at the trees.
When COVID took over our lives it was necessary to stay home, and stay healthy, but it’s been a good time to keep birding, too. It seems we had an amazing spring in terms of ‘good’ birds in our fairly urban area close to downtown Everett, from what I could see and what others reported as well. I spent a lot of time taking photos and recording birdsongs in my own backyard, and in the parks close to home.
I also listened to a really interesting and accessible book about birds by author Jennifer Ackerman, who has been writing about science and nature for 30 years. The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think is available as an e-audiobook which is read by the author, and it is thoroughly enjoyable.
The book contains lots of new scientific discoveries about how smart birds actually are; now it’s known that their tiny brains, previously assumed to be mostly operating on instinct, are capable of astonishing feats. How birds use intelligence and ingenuity in their daily activities is explored in separate chapters in the areas listed in the subtitle.
The section about bird songs and calls was really mind blowing. Birds can and do understand ‘foreign languages’ – they quickly learn to decipher an incredible amount of detailed information in other species vocalizations. Other chapters feature raptors who spread fire to increase their hunting success, hummingbirds who know how long a flower takes to replenish nectar, cooperative nesters who aren’t even related, and crows and parrots who solve puzzles, sometimes as a team. Ackerman says this is really a thrilling time in bird science. I agree!
If you haven’t heard of Ackerman, you’ve probably heard of David Sibley. For any fellow birders out there, check out this video that features the two of them in a virtual program on World Migratory Bird Day.
The library has a hundreds of books about birds for adults and youth. Below are a few recent additions to the collection to check out.
John Marzluff, probably best know for his work with crows at the University of Washington, as well as his talks at EPL, has published a new book, In Search of Meadowlarks. This book looks at sustainable food production methods that are compatible with bird and wildlife conservation. Meadowlarks live in most areas of the country, yet their numbers, like many birds, are in decline. Marzluff examines the reasons and ends with a chapter on what we can do to help.
What It’s Like to be a Bird, by David Allen Sibley, who’s famous for his illustrated bird guides which are favorites of many birders, is a bit of a departure for the author. Like The Bird Way mentioned above, Sibley takes a look at questions such as: “Can birds smell?” “Is this the same cardinal that was at my feeder last year?” and “Do robins ‘hear’ worms?” He says that he first planned this book many years ago as a children’s book. With two starred reviews, it sounds like it was worth the years of effort.
If birds themselves aren’t interesting enough, check out the bird related The Falcon Thief by Joshua Hammer. This is the story of Jeffrey Lendrum, who for two decades had a lucrative business of stealing, smuggling, and selling endangered falcon’s eggs to wealthy clients who were involved in falcon racing. Part true-crime narrative, part epic adventure, this book is hard to put down.
If gardening comes first for you, but you’d like to learn more about birds, try out Attracting Birds and Butterflies by Barbara Ellis. Planting for wildlife will certainly increase your chances of seeing some of our amazing local birds in your yard, acreage, or balcony. Even if you have little experience or time, you can make some changes that will help birds and butterflies survive.
Pacific Flyway by Audrey Benedict is a gorgeous photographic collection of images of the Pacific Flyway, the 10,000 mile stretch from the Arctic to southern South America, which is traveled by many bird species on their seasonal migrations. Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California coasts are crucial to support these birds on their journeys.
Close to Birds: an Intimate Look at Our Feathered Friends by Roine Magnusson is another photographic examination of the wonder of birds which features close up, super detailed photos of birds, all the work of the author.
So take a look at these great bird books, look around your yard and neighborhood, and discover the joys of birding, if you haven’t already. It is simultaneously challenging, relaxing, exciting, healthy, and just plain therapeutic!