The Bird Way is an ambitious, wide-ranging and wonderful read.
Ms Ackerman writes with a lightness and irreverence that brings species, behaviour and places alive.
She travels the globe, talking to naturalists and scientists who live arduous, yet enthralling, lives. They stand decked in recording technology, not moving for hours on end, they clamber through all sorts of landscapes doing bizarre and amusing things to understand birds better. They are more than happy to share stories like the fact that a hummingbird can keep track of hundreds of flowers that it visits for nectar so as to not return to the ones that it has already sucked dry. Ravens love playing in the snow – they’ll slide down a hill, sometimes on their backs and try to catch snowballs thrown at them.
Birds have ultraviolet vision so they can see a spectrum of colours on each other’s plumage or even in the greens of a forest canopy that far exceeds our vision. They also use this to shape their mating dances – flashing parts of their features like the back or neck – to create a certain effect in sunlight.
They create and use tools – various species are seen probing trees with twigs to elicit insects to eat. They’ll smash an egg with a piece of coral to break it and suck out the contents.
As a word in human speech brings forth a mental image (cat, table), so a bird’s alarm call can also give rise to specific image (snake). Some species mimic other birds to fool predators so as to not get eaten!
There are fascinating studies with crows being presented with puzzle boxes that they could put together in five minutes with no training. Some species even use fire as a foraging tool – the thing that is considered to have made us truly human.
She describes everything with such creativity that I found myself looking up videos of the birds to see their dances, their nests, birdcalls and so on.
The books packs an unbelievable amount of story, information, emotion and insight into these pages. It’s a long read but it completely drew me in with the personalities of its globe-spanning avian characters.