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Winter Reading

Books About Smart Birds

 Ziggy Blum’s picks

I have an inordinate fondness for all things feathered, and share my house with eleven roommates of the psittacine (parrot) persuasion, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that when I scan the shelves for reading material, books about birds catch my eye.  This passion for avians is something I share with George Brown, the book-buyer of the Kiva (who also happens to be one of the owners), which accounts for there being plenty of books on the Kiva’s shelves which appeal to this interest.

These are some of the titles I chose.



The Mind of the Raven

by Bernd Heinrich, first published in hardcover in 1999

Ravens and crows are popular birds, and it’s no wonder.  They’re beautiful and devastatingly intelligent. Crows, comfortable in the metropolis, are easy and fun to observe as they negotiate traffic, drop nuts to crack on the pavement, mob predators, and otherwise demonstrate their smarts in town.

Ravens–larger, more solitary, much more at home in the wilderness, and possibly even cleverer than their city cousins–are harder for a townie to get to know.  Bernd Heinrich has spent many years observing ravens in the wild and in captivity, and Mind of the Raven is the next best thing to doing so yourself.  Interesting and scholarly, this book is a rich and fascinating glimpse into the complicated world of raven behavior and wild nature.

Crow Planet

by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, 2011

 
Closer to home (at least to my home!) we have Crow Planet, which examines the phenomena of nature in the midst of human civilization.  She shows us crows and their behavior in a vivid light, along with their biology and folklore, and gives us insights into the disjunction of nature and human nature as well.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

by Mark Bittner, 2005
 
Another exploration of nature in the setting of the unnatural, this book is a story of misfits–the author himself, inclined to be a Dharma Bum, and the parrots of the title–escaped conures whose breeding colony exists to this day in the city of San Francisco.  Reading this book brings up a lot of questions, but also brings to light the interrelationships that form between creatures as diverse as humans and feral parrots, and how misfits of all kinds can find their niche in alien environments.

The Parrot Who Owns Me

by Joanna Burger, 2001
A lively and informative read, written by a woman who not only knows and observes her companion parrots with a sharp and compassionate eye, but who is also an ornithologist.  In The Parrot Who Owns Me, Joanna Burger tells of her slowly developing relationship with Tiko, a middle-aged Amazon parrot, orphaned by his elderly owners.

Her tone is light and engaging, but the book is informative and thought-provoking, and the story of her bond with Tiko–who builds nests for her each breeding season–is touching.  She also speaks engagingly of birds in general–their habits, habitats, physiology–and nature and nature conservancy as a whole.

If you are looking for a gift for anyone who is contemplating the addition of a parrot as a family member, The Parrot Who Owns Me and Alex & Me are highly recommended reading–I guarantee they will open the eyes of the uninitiated to the amount of care, interaction, and attention a parrot demands and deserves, and the rewards the human in the relationship may receive in return.

Alex & Me

by Irene M. Pepperberg, first published in hardcover 2008
Not long ago birds were generally believed–by biologists and the populace at large–to be pretty stupid.  This idea has changed dramatically in the recent past, and Alex and Irene Pepperberg are two big reasons why.

Like many people, I was an avid fan of Alex, an African Grey parrot owned and taught by Dr. Irene Pepperberg.  He was a sort of avian ambassador, if not a superstar.  He fascinated researchers in animal intelligence, human psychology, and linguistics, not to mention a lot of us who simply like birds and believe them to be smarter than was generally recognized.  He delighted journalists and television hosts with what appeared to be his particular brand of wry humor.  In this tribute to her long collaboration with Alex, who died prematurely at the age of 31,  Dr. Pepperberg tells us about their journey together, and how he demonstrated his ability not only to learn and understand human language but to use it to “mess with [their] heads.”

Dr. Pepperberg shows us not only a bird, but a person, with quirky individual traits and a lot of charm.  Admittedly, I’m a softie where birds are concerned, but I was moved both to tears and to laughter a couple of times in the course of the narrative.

Now that the demands of yard and garden have mellowed with the onset of chilly weather, it’s a great time to cozy up with a natural history book (and maybe a feathered friend or two–on your shoulder, or outside in the bird feeder).


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