The Genius of Birds
by Jennifer Ackerman
Penguin Press, 2016 ($28)
Science journalist Ackerman sets out to show that being called a “birdbrain” should be a compliment, not an insult. Birds' clever social and environmental problem-solving skills, she shows, establish them among the most intelligent members of the animal kingdom. Crows frequently steal the show: for example, they craft tools, such as branching twigs perfectly pruned into solitary sticks that can retrieve meat from plastic tubes. Even birdsong is cause for admiration: some birds' ability to hear a sound and re-create it has much in common with our own capacity to learn language.
Ackerman devotes each chapter to a different bird skill and ends the book with a discussion of avian adaptive capabilities, which will prove vital in the near future as climate change and loss of habitat have put more than half of North American bird species at risk, according to the Audubon Society.