We ooh and aah over their colorful plumage. We adore their antics. We marvel at their ability to soar, turn, and plummet. But how often do we admire birds for their intelligence? Read The Genius of Birds, and you’ll realize that being called a “bird brain” can be quite a compliment.
From fascinating behaviors to the minutest details of neurophysiology, author Jennifer Ackerman takes us on an incredible adventure into how birds think. Meet Alex, the African Grey Parrot who had a vocabulary of hundreds of English words, and knew how to use them. What’s more, he understood the concept, not only of numbers, but of zero.
New gardening books seem to pop up as regularly as springtime dandelions. Most simply rehash what has been said before—perhaps with a new twist or better photos. But How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Science for Gardeners) isn’t your typical treatise on how to grow what. Instead, the author, Linda Chalker-Scott, explains the “why” behind the “how.”
An extension urban horticulturist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Chalker-Scott knows what she’s talking about. This is her third book on horticulture, but there is a lot more. She’s written a series of articles on “Horticultural Myths” that I strongly urge you to read. Then, learn more at “The Informed Gardener,” a series of podcasts, or the informative Garden Professors website. She’s also a driving force behind the Gardening Professors Facebook blog (an extremely helpful research-based Q&A site).
What’s a birder to do, once we’ve checked off all the easily seen local birds? I, for one, can’t afford endless trips to exotic places. I don’t have time to chase rarities (which is why I missed the Red-necked Rail at Bosque last month). And I don’t keep year lists, or county lists (or even state lists).
How do you maintain your interest in species you see trip after trip? I turned to photography. There’s always the possibility of a better photo—a different pose, interesting behavior, surreal lighting. The more I practice, the better I get, although I have a long way to go before my photos are gracing the cover of National Geographic!
Maybe birding results from having a “collection gene.” (At least a bird collection—aka a “life list”—doesn’t take up any space on a shelf, and as a bonus, it never needs dusting.) I don’t just collect birds, I seem to also accumulate books. Like many birders I have a shelf full of delightful books, each chronicling the nature experiences of an author. From a Victorian lady’s garden journal to the a thin volume exploring the seasons of the north woods, I can immerse myself in the great outdoors from the comfort of my favorite chair.
I have to admit, however, that many of these books work equally well as sleeping pills. Reading detailed descriptions of the weeds on someone’s farm just doesn’t generate the page-turning anticipation of a good adventure story.
Do you really need another field guide to North American birds? Yes, you do. In fact, you need two of them—the sooner, the better. How many of your current field guides have entries for the Yellow-bellied Prairie Chicken, the Blunt-billed Woodpecker, or the Split Rail? None of them, I bet.
Do your current field guides explain how to correctly assemble the parts of a bird? I’m sure they don’t. Do you own a book explaining what to say to other birders while on a field trip? No? Well then…
Monday I posted some suggestions for books that might pique a child’s interest in birding. Today, I focus on books for budding gardeners. As I mentioned, I have a granddaughter. While she’s only seven months old, I plan to waste no time introducing her to the wonderful world of flowers, bugs, and dirt!
I confess… I’ve been buying books for this child before she was ever conceived. I’d see something, rationalize that it might be out of print by the time I have grandchildren, and stash it away for future use.
Any birder with a child in their life is eager to pass along their love of birds and nature in general. Pete and I have been blessed with a granddaughter, and even though she’s only seven months old, I’m already on the lookout for ways to share my interests.
At this tender age, she isn’t quite ready for her own binos—she’d probably try to eat them. Plus, she lives halfway across the country, so I can’t take her outside with me nearly as much as I’d like. Still, you can bet that most of the gifts from grandma this Christmas will have something to do with nature.