Bird Brains

Savage, Candace. Bird Brains: the Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1997.

This over-sized, beautiful and bold book on birds is entertaining on a multitude of levels. You don’t have to be an avid birder to appreciate Bird Brains for its witty, informative text and drop dead gorgeous photography. The premise for Bird Brains is the intelligence of the crow family. The argument for how smart they are is illustrated in the bird’s ability to adapt to changing conditions, ingenious nesting techniques, strategic enticing of a mate, uncanny voice recognition of their young, social nature such as showing off and much, much more. I was intrigued to learn of corvid “societies.” These birds congregate in avian clans. For example, the Jackdaws live in society regardless of the season and participate in communal activities such as feeding and roosting.

Here are a few other things I learned from reading Bird Brains. The green jay is absolutely gorgeous. Nutcrackers belong to the Crow family, as do Jays such as blue, green and pinyon.

Favorite line, “Prevented by its own prejudices and taboos from asking the most interesting questions, science was left with the most boring of answers” (p 19).

Favorite photograph: the crow “facing off” (the author’s description not mine) with a bald eagle on page 73. The eagle looks as though he is asking, “Seriously? You wanna mess with me? Really?!” and the crow is responding, “bring it on!” (to the cheers of his less brave comrades).

One thing I have always loved about ravens and crows is that they are seen as ominous creatures through literature (think Edgar Allan Poe), art (The Wyeth family’s Wondrous Strange collection), and song (Fairport Convention’s “Crazy Man Michael”). The shiny black birds are the perfect emblem of Halloween.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Nature Writing” (p 174).

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