The Genius of Birds: 07/13/17
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman continues my year of the birds. The bird on the cover, though, shows that the book had the unfortunate luck of becoming outdated shortly after its release. That's the nature of covering science — especially one that is still in an active form of discovery.
The cover illustration — and the topic of one of the first essays — is a scrub jay. As of last year, that scrub jay would have been known as a Western scrub jay. This year, though, the Western scrub jay was split into two species — and the larger of the two (which includes the bird on the cover) was given the new common name: California scrub jay. That's no fault of the author or the publisher — and frankly I hope later editions don't change the text, beyond maybe a notation in an afterword or a notes section. It's a good reminder of how much there is to still learn about our avian neighbors.
As the title implies, this book is an exploration of the intelligence of birds — of what makes for a successful bird. It's to set aside the notion of the "bird brain" as a negative connotation. That's not to say all birds are geniuses — but some are very smart in deed.
It's not just big birds (corvids and the like) that are smart. There are some geniuses among the very tiny too. The chickadee with it's oversized head is carrying around a big brain (on a small scale). They can think circles around the house finches they compete with.
The book is fascinating and makes for a good lunch time read. The focus remains on the birds throughout, but it gives just enough info on the scientists involved to appreciate the work they do.