The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human [NOOK Book]


An entertaining and profound look at the lives of birds, illuminating their surprising world—and deep connection with humanity.

Birds are highly intelligent animals, yet their intelligence is dramatically different from our own and has...
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The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

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An entertaining and profound look at the lives of birds, illuminating their surprising world—and deep connection with humanity.

Birds are highly intelligent animals, yet their intelligence is dramatically different from our own and has been little understood. As scientists come to understand more about the secrets of bird life, they are unlocking fascinating insights into memory, game theory, and the nature of intelligence itself.

The Thing with Feathers explores the astonishing homing abilities of pigeons, the good deeds of fairy-wrens, the influential flocking abilities of starlings, the deft artistry of bowerbirds, the extraordinary memories of nutcrackers, the lifelong loves of albatross, and other mysteries—revealing why birds do what they do, and offering a glimpse into our own nature.

Noah Strycker is a birder and naturalist who has traveled the world in pursuit of his flighty subjects. Drawing deep from personal experience, cutting-edge science, and colorful history, he spins captivating stories about the birds in our midst and reveals the startlingly intimate coexistence of birds and humans. With humor, style, and grace, he shows how our view of the world is often, and remarkably, through the experience of birds.

Beautiful and wise, funny and insightful, The Thing with Feathers is a gripping and enlightening journey into the lives of birds.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

After his debut Among Penguins, Birding magazine associate editor Noah Strycker takes to the air in The Things with Feathers to explore the extraordinary intelligence of flying creatures that we often take for granted. Using examples ranging from the wonders of starling flocks to the strange syncopations of dancing parrots, he shows how what seem like bird-brained foibles are actually intricate adaptations that have kept these species alive and thriving. At almost every landing, he finds parallels between bird behavior and our own. This obvious labor of love earns reads from nature fanciers.

Publishers Weekly
Strycker (Among Penguins), associate editor of Birding magazine, gets in his element, writing about his experiences watching penguins in Antarctica, putting out a deer carcass to assess the olfactory capabilities of turkey vultures, and monitoring the nests of purple-crowned fairy-wrens in the Australian outback. His work is a joy to read when he focuses on the interesting behavior of the birds with which he is obviously enamored, such as the astounding homing skills of pigeons, the uncanny talent of thousands of starlings to dart through the sky collectively without crashing into one another, or the ability of male bowerbirds to use sticks and brightly colored objects to assemble decorative structures that look like works of art. His prose is difficult to stop reading. However, when Strycker attempts to draw lessons, as his subtitle implies, about what it means to be human, he is far less successful. In discussing the evolution of music, ties between humans and birds are only loosely limned. Similarly, when he talks about evolutionary theory, from altruism to mating strategies, he presents little that is new or engaging. This will likely be a fascinating book for those captivated by birds but of only marginal interest to those looking for evolutionary insights into human behavior. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Here is good reading on a dazzling variety of avian subjects, including connections between birds and humans. Birder and bird photographer Strycker (Among Penguins) divides his book into three sections: "Body," "Mind," and "Spirit." In the first section, he explores the homing abilities of pigeons, the flocking abilities of starlings, vultures' sense of smell, unusual irruptive flights of owls, and the pugnaciousness of hummingbirds. The "Mind" section features coverage of parrots' attraction to music, food hoarding in species of crows, and penguins' particular fears. "Spirit" examines bowerbird courtship, intergenerational cooperative behavior in some bird species, and the apparent love among albatrosses. Strycker writes engagingly and with extensive documentation; his notes and sources contain veritable minichapters of additional information. VERDICT Now that anthropomorphic approaches to studying animals are gaining respectability, Strycker's book is all the more relevant. A fine choice for birders and readers in natural history. With minimal illustration.—Henry T. Armistead, formerly with Free Lib. of Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
Birding associate editor Strycker (Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica, 2011) backs up his claim that "[b]ird behavior offers a mirror in which we can reflect on human behavior." The author pinpoints experiments beginning in the 1970s that examined the amazing memory of nutcrackers, which were able to survive cold winters at high elevations by stashing pine seeds in the ground. Surpassing the memory skills of most humans, "[i]n one fall season, a single nutcracker may store tens of thousands of pine seeds in as many as 5,000 different mini-caches, which he will retrieve in winter." Strycker writes about how bird fanciers puzzled over this feat, since the birds left no obvious signs of how they did it. By a process of elimination, an ornithologist designed an experiment that demonstrated how the nutcrackers oriented to landmarks in the environment to build three-dimensional mental maps. Even more intriguing are magpies, which join the select company of humans and great apes, elephants, dolphins and orcas in recognizing their own images in mirrors. Seemingly, this is an indication of self-awareness and a capacity for qualities such as empathy. What, then, asks the author, can we say about pet dogs, which fail to self-recognize in mirrors yet do demonstrate empathy? Referencing the behavior of Antarctic penguins, which only jump into the ocean in groups to avoid the seals that feed on them but are calm in the presence of humans, Strycker weighs in on the nurture/nature debate and concludes that, for us and penguins, "emotion itself is innate, fear of particular things is regulated by experience." The author speculates that the behavior of fairy-wrens, a species that sometimes assists feeding nonrelated birds, serves as an expression of altruism in nature, and he attributes the abilities of homing pigeons to the intelligent use of sensory clues. A delightful book with broad appeal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780698152731
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/20/2014
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 47,470
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Noah Strycker has studied birds in some of the world’s most extreme environments, and is associate editor of the American Birding Association’s flagship magazine, Birding. His previous book, Among Penguins, describes a summer studying penguins in an isolated Antarctic field camp. Strycker writes, lectures, and lives near Eugene, Oregon, between field seasons.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 9, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    I received this book compliments of Riverhead Books, via Library

    I received this book compliments of Riverhead Books, via Library Thing’s Early Reviewers book giveaway of an uncorrected Proof.  I owe them many thanks for introducing me to a new author.
    I’ve gone back and read several reviews of Mr. Stryker’s new book and I don’t know that I could provide anything more than most these reviewers.  I will say that I totally enjoyed his writing and will be looking for his first book Among Penguins, and perhaps even check out his work as associate editor of the American Birding Association’s flagship magazine,  Birding.
    I tried to pick out my favorite stories but really, I enjoyed them all;  from the Murmurration of Starling flocks right through to the “Wandering Hearts” of albatrosses. I even read the man’s end of book footnotes with fascination.  It’s a wonderful read, and would be almost perfect while sitting outside with binoculars among the birds of your backyard.  I think that there’s only one thing that could make this book perfect, and that would be as an interactive ebook, linking to the variety of subjects the author mentions, the Youtube videos, etc.  Several times while reading, I pulled myself away to my tablet or desktop to look up the colorful bowers of the Great Bowerbirds of Australia, or the murmurration of the starlings, or the dancing parrots.  But this quibble aside, I enjoyed the book thoroughly and will be rereading it soon, this time pencil in hand as I commit the Librarian’s worst nightmare – marking the book up with notes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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