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Great Bllue heron

For the Birds

When I wrote several columns about birds in 2011 and 2013, I shared the many new books that you’ll find in our library’s collection. (For anyone hoping to read a past column, you can find all of our nearly 400 columns archived online or organized annually in spiral books that are available from our adult services librarians.)

I wrote about my experiences as a non-birding wife; that is, one who is married to a man who stops conversations, meals, and eyes-on-the-road to stare at, point out, or listen to birds. I used to find it particularly annoying when I was interrupted. Gerry would excitedly stop everything to exclaim about the long lines of black cormorants on the electrical wires. When he spied the trail of a circling hawk spotting an unfortunate prey, all other words and thoughts went out the window.

Lately, though, I don’t mind those interruptions so much. I’ve softened over time to the world of birds. In fact, one of Gerry’s and my favorite dawn or dusk pastimes is watching the Blue Herons soar above with fish to feed their young when we are spending our weekends near the water of Buzzard’s Bay. Two pair of eyes are now keenly inspecting the sky and tree lines. My ears are finally fine-tuned to the Eastern Towhee’s “drink your tea-e-e-e-e” or the osprey’s high-pitched whistle above the treetops.

On weekends we sit in our breakfast room on the south coast and admire the birds feeding winter through spring. I’m not sure which of the seasons is my favorite time to birdwatch. Winter is spectacular when the male cardinal stands out shockingly against the white snow. Summer is whimsical when robins lay eggs in a nest in the far-left tree in our front yard. We smile when we spy baby birds just weeks later. What a sight it is to watch a round of twenty robins scurry around the lawn after a rain, searching for every last bite of worm they can swallow.

While I’d love to actually study bird identification or songs, I’ve got many other hobbies that take up my time. I made it my New Year’s resolution several years ago to learn more about birds and I try to read small parts of the many birding books we have in our home.

Several new books that bird lovers will enjoy have been published just within the past few months. One is The Genius of Birds (April 2016) by science and nature writer, Jill Ackerman. Ackerman believes that birds are extremely intelligent and she gives many examples of this in her book. Bird brain has traditionally been a term used to describe someone who is thought to be stupid. However, a bird’s brain is certainly not the smallest we can find and it might, in fact, be packed with more neurons than anyone ever realized. They might, Ackerman writes, have huge brains compared to their body mass.

Ackerman doesn’t just hypothetically suppose this to be true; she journeyed the globe backing up her writing. From Australia to islands in the West Indies and then along Louisiana south coast, Ackerman puts to rest the myth of the bird brain. Ackerman has written many articles for National Geographic and Scientific American, in addition to other books. She is an award-winning investigator of the worlds of biology and nature.

We’ve all read about the fantastic flights of the honeybee – up to 8 miles to find pollen – and the return to the hive to tell their fellow bees where they’ve been. Birds have tales to tell, as well. Think of the bird song and how birds of each species must remember each in order to recognize who is near them. Crows and pigeons are incredibly impressive birds who find their way home or act as engineers, using tools to solve problems.

My family had an African parrot as a family pet about 20 years ago. This parrot played hide and seek with the cat. He teased me incessantly by repeating my admonitions at the cat. He eventually terrorized us because we were no longer paying him the attention he felt he deserved. I often felt that Oz (he was bright green) was the real king of the household. He was, no doubt, a genius in his own right, manipulating and playing with us.

Also published in April of this year, One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives by Bernd Heinrich is one about the meeting of the minds – birds and human. Heinrich has written prolifically about the relationships of birds with humankind. The Mind of the Raven is an exquisite introspective of the world’ largest crow, the raven. Heinrich has been birdwatching since he was a child. He studied crows in the woods of his Maine cabin and from his home near the University of Vermont where he taught biology until he retired. He wrote about his relationship with a great horned owl in One Man’s Owl (1987) and has authored many books about nature, including A Year in the Maine Woods, Summer World, Winter World, and the Snoring Bird.

In his latest book, Heinrich writes of his observations of both individual bird behaviors and what birds do when they are together with others of their species. For months at a time, he lives in a cabin deep in the Maine woods and spends his life journaling throughout the year. His book is a memoir of those annotations from his unique vantage point – through his windows, from his porch, and in the surrounding woods and meadows.

If you love birds, or you want to know more about them, there are a plethora of books in your local library. In addition, there are audiobooks and bird song books that can help you learn even more. Call the library for help finding any item you’d like to check out.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the July 28, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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