One of today's visitors to the garden.
In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about. As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research— the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia, the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia, the ravaged mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy and the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states—Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are revolutionizing our view of what it means to be intelligent.
The insult “bird brain” has always bothered me—how exactly is this insulting? I suppose if the only birds you are familiar with are domestic chickens and turkeys, you might think it’s appropriate, but if you’ve ever studied wild birds, you’ll know that it’s completely off the mark. Detailed observation of the domestic fowl might change your mind, too.
Think of the hummingbird—with a brain smaller than a pea, it manages to migrate long distances and maintain detailed mental maps of nectar sources in its territory, knowing when each flower will be refilled with sweet goodness and ready to be drained again! Or think about the Gray Jay, with its multitudinous stored foodstuffs, to be recovered before they have spoiled. Even the lowly pigeon can do amazing things—witness the homing pigeons, used successfully by people to communicate over great distances.
This book, while enjoyable, it not a scientific tome. Much of it consists of anecdotal evidence, which seems self-evident, but hasn’t necessarily been peer reviewed. If you are searching for a definite science textbook on bird intelligence, this book may leave you frustrated, but if you are a bird enthusiast you will enjoy gaining a new appreciation for our feathered neighbours.
The threat from above is an ever-present danger. A man falls to his death from a high cliff face in northern Scotland. From a distance, another man watches. He approaches the body, tucks a book into the man’s pocket, and leaves. When the Scottish police show Inspector Domenic Jejeune the book, a bird guide bearing his name, he can truthfully say he that he has no idea how it came to be in the dead man’s pocket. What he does not tell them is that he recognizes the book instantly. So, while puzzled, he is not entirely surprised when his brother Damian emerges from his fugitive existence to reveal that the dead man is a notorious “taker” — a poacher of live wild falcons.
The case gets personal in a way Jejeune has never experienced before. He is acutely aware that with each passing day, rare birds are being illegally taken from the wild. And hovering over his every move is the threat that if he gets this one wrong, no one in the North Norfolk Constabulary will escape the wrath of the nation’s highest-placed officials.
If you are a birder and you like murder mysteries, you are already predisposed to like the Birder Murder Mysteries by Steve Burrows. This third installment of the series returns the reader to the Norfolk area of England, to see what Inspector Domenic Jejeune is involved in now—obviously from the title, falcons feature as an important part of the action.
Developments include Jejeune’s relationships with his partner Lindy, his sergeant Danny Maik, and his superior officer Colleen Shepard, among others. Plus we finally get a peek into the family backstory that has been alluded to in the previous two books.
Burrows uses his life experience as a birder and as a Brit transplanted to Canada to craft an engaging main character (Jejeune is a Canadian ex-pat in Norfolk).
The plot gets a bit messier, just like real life, and the entanglements get more difficult to sort out. Justice proves a little more difficult to achieve. A satisfying story—but I can see the possibilities for the next book A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, which I will be on the look-out for next year.