The Genius of Birds is, as you can guess, all about how fascinating those creatures are. It starts out by talking about birds’ intelligence – how do you measure it? If you just measure brain size, of course, an elephant far outstrips any bird for sheer size, but crows are arguably as clever, again, depending on how you measure. Crows are masters of tool use, they adapt incredibly quickly, and they show aptitude for play.
“A baby zebra finch starts his long journey to the full-throated music of mature song just as we do on our journey to speech: He listens.”
One of the really nice things about this book is that it constantly presents both sides of the argument. For example, it will show one study that seems to show crows showing emotion – but is that really what is happening, or is it just humans projecting those feelings onto the animals? The book tells you about different scientific studies, along with their results – or what the results were thought to be –but then also presents opposing viewpoints and differing interpretations. Even so, the author, Jennifer Ackerman, presents conclusions that are undisputed – for example, that crows are more intelligent than cagues.
As well as measuring bird intelligence, Ackerman discusses tool use, social adeptness, bird song aesthetic ability, mapping ability, and environmental adaptability. She talks about which birds excel in each category –mostly crows! – and why that’s amazing. This book is really interesting, and written in a professional yet accessible style. There are copious scientific studies, interspersed with the author’s personal experiences. It is really fun to read, and will give you a deep appreciation for these feathered friends.