Although based on extensive academic research, this book about a family of birds known as corvids (e.g., crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers) is surprisingly accessible for general audiences. Together Marzluff (wildlife science, Univ. of Washington) and illustrator and nature writer Angell (coauthors, In the Company of Crows and Ravens) provide readers with a remarkable look at just how smart the common crow and raven are and demonstrate how these creatures are capable of planning, making tools, adapting to their environment, playing, gift giving, and other behaviors thought to be uncharacteristic of birds. Marzluff and Angell start with a detailed look at the complexity of these birds' brains and follow with a discussion of their intelligence, learning, and language capabilities. Since corvids are such social birds, some chapters deal with complex concepts such as grief, cognition, revenge, and more. VERDICT Filled with anecdotes, this is far from a dry, academic work. Marzluff and Angell's latest will be enjoyed by anyone interested in nature. Highly recommended.—Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI
Bird researcher Marzluff (Wildlife Sciences/Univ. of Washington; The Pinyon Jay, 2010, etc.) and artist and nature writer Angell (Puget Sound Through an Artist's Eye, 2009, etc.) look at how crows and other similar birds think, learn and remember. Various birds in the Corvidae family--crows, ravens, magpies and others--have been observed fashioning tools out of pieces of wire, implementing multistep plans to obtain food, and even "surfing" on air currents using pieces of tree bark. All are unusually intelligent-seeming bird behaviors, and Marzluff and other researchers have devoted themselves to analyzing these "clever, opportunistic, social, and associative learner[s]." Here the authors use a mix of research results, anecdotal observations and basic neurobiology to illuminate these mysterious behaviors. The most effective section deals with Marzluff's project in which researchers wore caveman masks when handling crows in order to gauge whether the birds recognized and remembered specific faces; they appeared to do so with uncanny accuracy. Elsewhere, the authors show how some crows, ravens and magpies are able to convincingly imitate human speech and explain how the birds' specialized respiratory systems and relatively large brains make it possible. Marzluff and Angell also examine some wild crows' tendency to leave small "gifts," such as shiny objects or flowers, for humans that feed them regularly--an action that may be deliberate or simply accidental. The book isn't without flaws: A chapter on how and why birds play gets a bit bogged down by scientific jargon, and while Angell's illustrations of birds are exquisitely detailed, his renderings of human beings are oddly amateurish. Overall, however, the book will instill in many readers a sense of wonder and curiosity at what these birds can do. An insightful look at some of our surprisingly capable feathered friends.
"Full of clear and detailed accounts of research...remarkable."
"A great read, serious and at time shilarious, this book explores the many complex similarities between crows' mental traits and our own." Bernd Heinrich, author of Summer World
"Throughout much of human history crows have been our constant companions. In their exciting new book, Marzluff and Angell, show us how crows brains work, while providing the evidence that these cerebral birds have a lot more in common with us than we ever imagined. And Angell's illustrations alone make the book worth the price."
"With its abundance of funny, awe-inspiring, and poignant stories, Gifts of the Crow portrays creatures who are nothing short of amazing. A testament to years of painstaking research and careful observation, this fully illustrated, riveting work is a thrilling look at one of nature's most wondrous creatures."
“Researchers writing about comparative human and nonhuman cognition always make brief, obligatory reference to the underlying neurological and hormonal systems, but Marzluff and Angell actually provide us with the details. In lucid, logical, and articulate prose, they carefully explain all the interrelated mechanisms involved in the fascinating behavior patterns of their corvid subjects and how these mechanisms relate to those of humans. Their book is indeed a gift, not only to those of us eager to learn about corvid behavior but also but also to those who wish to understand the bases for these actions.”
“John Marzluff and Tony Angell's amazing, true stories of crows who rage, grieve, give gifts, work together, and even design and use tools would be enough to make this book a great read. But these maverick scientists go a step further, and actually show how these birds' big brains, though different from our own, achieve many of the same feats. Gifts of the Crow is a gift to all of us who have argued for years that humans don't possess the only minds in the universe. This is one of the most exciting books I've read in a long time.”
"In this important work, you’ll find stunning examples of crow emotionality and intelligence a triumphant vindication for those who have known all along that animals are capable of much more than they’re generally given credit for. . Crows dream as part of their learning process, for instance, and profile other individuals’ behavior and act accordingly. In many ways, their intelligence is equal to that of the great apes. Fascinating."
"A great read, this book is a tribute to the little-known and underappreciated minds of the birds of the amazing corvid family. Serious and at times hilarious, it pulled me in with its telling anecdotes and scientific context. Most importantly, it acknowledges and explores the many complex similarities between crows' mental traits and our own."
“Gifts of the Crow is a compelling book. Filled with wonderful stories of regular people’s interactions with ravens, crows, and jays, it also cites engrossing scientific studies, reports on the field work of biologists, and offers detailed explanations of how the brain of a corvid actually works. I was fascinated.”