Books

Book Review: The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman 

How can we measure the intelligent of another species? And if we measure their smart do we do it from our own basis, forgetting that birds, fishes, and other mammals have different needs to survive? In The Genius of Birds Jennifer Ackerman goes over birds intelligence from our and their perspective, pondering the question of what is intelligence and how did birds acquire it and how did we. This is a beautiful book to discover birds’ diversity and talents, but not only that. It teaches something about us humans. How we value the world, how we influence the world, and how confiner our viewpoint for the world can be. (Also, how intelligence comes to be.)

I loved this book. It made me appreciate birds more and understand their needs and life better. It also made me question the so-called intelligence of humans and its shaping power of the environment. Birds have been here longer than us, and they aren’t causing the sixth extinction as we are. Who’s the bird brain here? Anyway, that is beside the point (if it ever can be.) Jennifer Ackerman goes over the areas where birds’ intelligence shines from tool-making (family of crows, what birds!) to sociability (great tits and their fascinating social structure) to brilliant singing (even polyphonic) to aesthetics (art-making, darn those beautiful blue nests) to mapping (all hail the master pigeons) to their power of adaptation (sparrows and cities they have conquered). After reading all that, I look at birds differently. I appreciate them more and understand they are individuals like we humans are with some having tendencies to get bored sooner or some being adventurous beyond what is good for them or others sneaking to have another tail on the side and others committing to their partners fully.

If you haven’t read this book and are fascinated by nature, birds, where intelligence comes from, or want a book to appreciate life more, then this is good for that. The only downside I can come up with is that it’s example heavy, slowing down the reading, but then again there might be 18,000 bird species (a new estimation), and their habits differ. There is a lot to write about.

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