What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds

by Jennifer Ackerman

Hardcover, 2023

Call number

598.9 ACK


Penguin Press (2023), 352 pages


"From the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds and The Bird Way, a brilliant scientific exploration of owls, the most elusive group of birds, and an investigation into why these remarkable and yet mysterious animals exert such a hold on human imagination For centuries, owls have captivated and intrigued us. Our fascination with these mysterious birds was first documented over 30,000 years ago, in the Chauvet cave paintings in southern France, and our enduring awareness and curiosity of their forward gaze and nearly silent flight has cemented the owl as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge, foresight and intuition. But what, really, does an owl know? Though our infatuation goes back centuries, scientists have only recently begun to study these birds in great detail. While more than 270 species exist today, and reside on every continent except Antarctica, owls are far more difficult to find and study than other birds - because while not only cryptic and perfectly camouflaged, owls are most active in the dark of night. Joining scientists on this maddening and elusive treasure hunt, Jennifer Ackerman brings alive the rich biological history of these animals and reveals the remarkable scientific discoveries into their brains and behavior. She explores how, with the modern technology and tools, researchers now know that owls talk all night long - without opening their bills. That that their hoots follow a series of complex rules, allowing them to express needs and desires. That owls duet. They migrate. They use tools. They hoard their prey. Some live in underground burrows, some dine on scorpions. Ackerman brings this research alive with her own personal field observations about owls, and dives deep too into why this bird endlessly inspires and beguiles us. WHAT AN OWL KNOWS is an awe-inspiring and spellbinding journey across the globe and through human history, and a dazzling account of the astonishing health, hunting skills, communication, and sensory prowess that distinguishes the owl from nearly all other birds. An extraordinary glimpse into the mind of these brilliant animals, WHAT AN OWLS KNOWS pulls back the curtain on the the hidden and still undiscovered realities of our shared world"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member spinsterrevival
My college mascot is the owl, and the building I worked in had an amazing collection of figurines given by students and alum who had travelled and brought them from all over the world. I knew they represent wisdom which I love, but that was about it for my experience and knowledge. This book oddly
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has both too much and not enough information, and I had a rather frustrating reading experience.

From what I could tell, there has been new learning going on from scientists studying owls which is what the author supposedly is focusing on. But she aims to shove so much in about what seems like every owl out there that it’s overwhelming; the beginning just feels like a random trivia guide to various owls, and it annoyed me. She seemed to try to home in more later, but there was still a bit too much wandering for my taste.

I think the most interesting thing I learned was that there are so many cultures with extreme superstitions about owls to this day, and that there are continual efforts to educate them in order to save owls from being killed; I had no idea so that was fascinating. In general though I didn’t get much out of this read as it felt too all over the place for me.
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LibraryThing member MBPortlandLibrary
Good pictures of owls.
LibraryThing member tangledthread
A thorough review of the natural history of owls, which hold a unique place in ornithology as the only bird with forward facing eyes. They are found on every continent except the Antarctic in an astounding variety of species.
The author does a thorough survey on the current research on owls, which
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are extremely difficult to study since they are mostly active at night and rely on stealth and camouflage for safety and successful hunting.
There are chapters on habitat, breeding behavior, diet, general behavior, and the threats presented by climate and habitat change.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
WHOOO should read this book? Everyone!
LibraryThing member LynnB
I found this book interesting, especially the section on raising young. And the section on owls in our culture, including some of the beliefs that persist to this day.

The book is more of an overview than a deep dive into the subject -- perfect for general readers. But watch out...some of the
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pictures are creepy!
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BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Nonfiction — 2024)
National Outdoor Book Award (Winner — 2023)




0593298888 / 9780593298886
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