Science Books That Are Not Just “For the Birds!”

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Hello again, everyone! Hope you survived the blizzard without much fuss—unfortunately, as a South County resident, I wouldn’t be able to say the same. No power, phone, or Internet—at least we have a wood stove to cook on and to keep my gecko’s cage near!

But enough talk about snow. This month, I’m going to focus on a much more pleasant topic—birds! Not only is it National Bird Feeding Month, but this weekend (the 15th-18th) is the Great Backyard Bird Count. Each year, the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University asks “citizen scientists” to note how many and what kinds of birds they observe for at least 15 minutes. While this can be tricky for novice birdwatchers, it’s a great way to learn about the species that are common in your area. While I usually go to the same old nature preserve, this year I’m going to try and go to a different place each day, in different parts of the state.  I’ll be sure to let you know what I find!

The book I particularly want to highlight is Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Feeding Habits, Behavior, Distribution, and Abundance by Erica H. Dunn and Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes.

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Based on results from Project Feederwatch, this book highlights 88 different bird species that are mostly likely to be seen feeding in one’s yard. Each species is given a black-and-white illustration and a two page description, including info on their breeding season, migration habits and other interesting facts. This is followed by “FeederWatch Findings” that list what the birds’ preferred feedstuff is, what months they are most likely to be using feeders during, and maps of the areas of the United States where they are most prevalent. About 20 pages of general information on bird feeding and bird populations is also given in the beginning of the book.

There is much more to birds than just their feeding behavior; bird songs and their nest building behaviors have also captivated people throughout history. Two books in Bryant’s collection that highlight these behaviors are Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture by Mike Hansell and Songs, Roars, and Rituals: Communication in Birds, Mammals, and Other Animals by Lesley J. Rogers and Gisela Kaplan. Although they are not about birds exclusively, both contain a lot of avian-centric information, such as how birds learn their songs (Rogers & Kaplan) or an entire chapter dedicated to  how Australia’s bowerbirds use incredibly elaborate nests as part of their courtship rituals (Hansell).

That’s all for this week! Next time I’ll share some sources, both online and in print, you can use to find out more about the grandfather of birding, John Jacob Audubon. 🙂

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