Keeping it Local

With the current restrictions on social gatherings, as well as the return of the November rainy season, you might find yourself spending a lot of time indoors and at home. If, like me, you have caught yourself analyzing the animal residents of your backyard or scrutinizing the behavior of your beloved pet, it may be time to just lean into the situation. Why not declare your immediate home environment a new obsession and give your curiosity free reign?  

Luckily, the library has a lot of great new books to help you investigate your local surroundings and find out what makes its inhabitants tick. Here are a few excellent examples. 

Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy by Zazie Todd

Whether you dog follows you around all day, barks at a leaf falling on the roof, or likes to take 8 hour power naps, spending so much time with them begs the question: Are they happy? Zazie Todd sets out to not only answer that question, but to also find out ways to make their lives markedly better. She interviews a broad range of experts, including veterinarians, behaviorists, shelter managers and trainers to gain insight into the dog mindset. Equally important, she asks the reader to examine their own expectations when it comes to living with, or even getting, a canine companion. 

Decoding Your Cat: the Ultimate Experts Explain Common Cat Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones

Ah the inscrutable feline. Even with extra hours of observation at home, is it possible to understand what makes yours tick? This book, from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists no less, believes you can understand your feline companion and learn to cohabitate better. They even provide a handy chart of common behavioral cues, like the set of their ears, to help you interpret your cat’s changing temperament. This book is also full of practical advice (cats like to observe from above so providing a perch to view all the human action below is ideal) and DIY cat toy ideas. 

Peterson Guide to Bird Behavior by John Kricher

Birds, aka avian dinosaurs, are another set of creatures you have probably had more time to observe lately. While your backyard feathered friends might not belong to any unusual species, their behaviors are definitely exotic and fascinating. This Peterson guide is not about bird identification but instead delves into the many aspects of bird behaviors: social interaction, nesting, migration, feeding and many more that you can observe. Best of all, this guide is written in an easy to understand style, which ditches obscure and technical jargon in favor of ease of understanding.  

A Cloud a Day by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Even if you don’t have a pet or local fauna to observe, there is one sure fire way to connect with your local surroundings: simply look up. Clouds are easily taken for granted, but are actually pretty amazing, and come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes. Put together by the Cloud Appreciation Society (yes, it is a real organization) this book provides you with 365 cloud formations to contemplate and appreciate. Each entry is gorgeous in its own way, with photographs and famous illustrations of each formation. A detailed, but easy to understand, scientific explanation of each cloud is provided as well. 

So get out of your headspace and observe some of the fascinating, complex and beautiful creatures and phenomena that surround you. Library books included.  

Birding from Home

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Photo by JoAnna Thomas of me and my camera, seeking Lazuli Buntings near Snohomish one spring.

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!

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New Holland Honeyeater, an Australian bird that conveys super-detailed information about predators in its calls. Photo from Wikipedia.

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.

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Hopefully you have been lucky enough to see a Meadowlark, and to hear its beautiful song.

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!


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Chestnut-backed Chickadee in my backyard with a grub for its babies. It was a great joy to watch the progress of the family without leaving my yard.

Did You Know? (Cassowary Edition)

That the most dangerous bird on earth is the Southern Cassowary?

National Geographic Angry Birds by Mel White shows 50 birds that you don’t want to mess with. It talks about the cassowaries on page 144. While Cassowaries are the most dangerous bird, the Australian Magpie is rated the angriest bird, dive bombing anyone near their nests.

Birds are living dinosaurs. This is something that serious paleontologists now agree on. Birdology by Sy Montgomery explains this on page 49. He has a very informative chapter on cassowaries, with photos of their deadly feet and dagger sharp claws.

Other birds can appear to be very angry as well… here in the northwest there are crows that dive bomb people when they walk too close to their trees! The PBS documentary DVD A Murder of Crows: Birds with an Attitude and the book In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John M. Marzluff both describe this phenomenon and explain the behaviors.

Cassowaries live in New Guinea, northeast Australia and nearby Islands. While they are one of the 10 most dangerous birds on earth, there are other critters in these areas I wouldn’t want to mess with either. As cute as koala bears are, they can be quite vicious, and kangaroos can kick as badly as the cassowaries but without the deadly damage of the claws. The largest predators in Australia are the crocodiles that grow up to 20 feet long, and can pull a grown water buffalo from the banks and drown it!

While cassowary babies are chicks, I wouldn’t mess with them or with Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J Gomez. And you probably shouldn’t confuse them with the very talented musical group the Dixie Chicks either. You wouldn’t want to make those “chicks” angry!

Did you know?

A bumblebee flaps its wings 150 times per second?

I found this information in the book Why Don’t Jumbo Jets Flap Their Wings? by David E. Alexander. This excellent book provides clear explanations of all aspects of flight — be it birds, planes or insects!

Find more information, stunning photographs and an A to Z directory of hummingbirds in Hummingbirds by Ben Sonder.

To learn more about how birds fly check out How Do Birds Fly? by Melissa Stewart. There are some interesting pictures of birds’ lightweight bones and feathers that enable flight.

Birds: Nature’s magnificent flying machines by Caroline Arnold shows some excellent pictures of how wings flap, explains the aerodynamics of bird flight, and shows some pictures of other flying animals such as squirrels, snakes, fish, bats and frogs!

Linda