The Genius of Birds

by Jennifer Ackerman

Hardcover, 2016





New York : Penguin Press, 2016.


"Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. In fact, according to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. Like humans, many birds have enormous brains relative to their size. Although small, bird brains are packed with neurons that allow them to punch well above their weight. In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about."--provided by publisher.

Media reviews

Ackerman wants us to “appreciate the complex cognitive abilities of birds in their own right and not because they look like some aspect of our own.” "Often, you feel her wonderment, faintly recognizing another, strange intelligence covertly operating in a world we presume to be ours: the one pecking at our muffin crumbs, the quick specks in the sky."

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bookmarque
This was a really interesting follow-on to the book I recently read about consciousness in cephalopods. As you might surmise from the title, corvids (crows, jays and ravens) feature, but also chickadees, zebra finches, hummingbirds, bower birds, pigeons, mockingbirds and even the lowly house sparrow. Many of the anecdotes and research projects are fascinating and defy you to use the term ‘bird brain’ to mean dumb. Parts can be a bit prolonged, but overall it’s a reasonably tight narrative that sticks to its eponymous topic. I like how Ackerman doesn’t inject herself into the story much and sticks to reporting, but I admit to being mystified by her seemingly random use of italics. Also she got the viceroy/monarch butterfly relationship backward - it’s the monarch that is poisonous and the viceroy that is the mimic trying to benefit.… (more)
LibraryThing member charl08
I thought this was a very readable look into research into the Iives of birds around the world, including the more bizarre (like the Bower Bird above) and the everyday sparrow. She includes all sorts of mad anecdotes about bird behaviour (such as the homing pigeon that turned up five years late) along with a sense of humour. She considers the role intelligence may have in different kinds of birds, how birds are dealing with environmental change, as well as considering how some species manage such significant migration pattern (maybe even by their sense of smell). By the end of the book, where she was describing how researchers cut olfactory nerves in birds, and may have caused birds to abandon nests due to early tagging, I did begin to wonder how permission was approved for some of these experiments. Some of the material overlapped with Attenborough documentaries I've seen, which meant I had a picture in my head to go with her more detailed discussions.Copy provided by Netgalley.… (more)
LibraryThing member dele2451
Full of fascinating facts about our feathered friends. One of the best bird, and wildlife, books I've ever read.
LibraryThing member nmele
Ackerman had me with her introductory sentence: "For a long time, the knock on birds was that they're stupid." She then proceeds to dismantle that stereotype with accounts of individual bird geniuses, empirical data and fascinating quotes from ornithologists studying birds around the world. This is an enlightening, surprising, entertaining book of popular science.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarmenMilligan
This lovely book took me a while to get through because I didn't want to rush the reading, or gloss over all of the marvelous facts Ackerman painstakingly presents.

The author's love and respect for our feathered friends is obvious in her summaries of quirks, personalities, and proclivities of birds. There are scientific facts, anecdotes, summaries, and observations of the level of intelligence and the sheer ingenuity of birds and how they reach their goals.

While this is not a novel, it is very easy to read, and fills your mind with the fluttering and thought processes, which various species of birds go through. As a lay-birdwatcher and ardent feeder- replenisher, I very much enjoyed this and recommend it.

Many thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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LibraryThing member lisa.schureman
There was an uneven pace to this book. When the author focused on specific types of birds, their intelligence, their mating activities, whether they were specialists, opportunists or an invasive species, those sections held my attention. Her sense of humor throughout helped as well. The extensive repetition on avian evolutionary was what bogged down the pace of the book. It was nice to find out that the cheeky chickadee is one of the brighter birds along with the herons. I was interested to read that the English House Sparrow can have more than one brood a year. The ones in our vent pipe are on brood number three. Interesting read though slow at times.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
The expression bird-brain is immediately debunked in the opening chapters, as the author lays out the argument that birds are one of the most complex and intelligent species on the planet. A chickadee can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over large distances and remember the location of each one, months later; songbirds, that can store 200 to 2,000 different songs in a brain a thousand times smaller than ours and of course the genius and mind-blowing art of migration.

This is an academic book, but the author keeps the narrative light and easy to follow. It may have bogged down at times with repetition and scientific jargon but for the most part I found it informative and entertaining and the timing, for me, has perfectly coincided with my recent interest in “birding”. Bird-lovers rejoice.
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LibraryThing member Welsh_eileen2
A wonderful book!
It is also a surprising one, as I was unaware of the intelligence of these creatures.
The illustrations are very colourful and detailed. I shall see the birds in my garden a little differently from now on!
Very highly recommended!
I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher Penguin Group via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member mariannedawnl
If you've ever been called a bird brain, you should be flattered as Ackerman aptly shows in her engaging work about bird intelligence. Recent research has indicated that birds are capable of a wide range of cognitive skills, including some that were once considered exclusive to humans. Ackerman teaches us not only about birds, but how studying them provides insight into how the human brain works.… (more)
LibraryThing member Northlaw
A truly wonderful book, which had all the qualities I look for in a non-fiction book. Writing that keeps you interested and new and exciting ideas on nearly every page. A delight to read and a book I would highly recommend.
LibraryThing member SandyAMcPherson
An entertaining read. I was struck by the varied, amazing stories of activities by birds. However, I think it is a fatal mistake of attributing a human-interpretation to these stories. And it was unfortunate that the reference notes don't justify the observations with actual research: anecdotes are not data and cannot contribute to behavioural statistics. This was strange since the author wrote a well-nuanced section on the dangers of anthropomorphism.… (more)
LibraryThing member Welsh_eileen2
A wonderful book!
It is also a surprising one, as I was unaware of the intelligence of these creatures.
The illustrations are very colourful and detailed.
I shall see the birds in my garden a little differently from now on!
Very highly recommended.
I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher Penguin Group via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LynnB
I really enjoyed this book. The information was very well presented; the author not only gave us evidence of "the genius of birds", but also about how specific abilities have helped different species adapt and survive. There were also a number of interesting, sometimes humourous, stories about birds, such as a homing pigeon who came home 5 years late and a bower bird with a blue pacifier. The amount of information birds can store in very small brains is amazing. I only wish the book had had pictures of the main birds featured.… (more)



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