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Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur (t) [Hardcover]

Sy Montgomery

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Book Description

April 6 2010
Meet the ladies: a flock of smart, affectionate, highly individualistic chickens who visit their favorite neighbors, devise different ways to hide from foxes, and mob the author like she’s a rock star. In these pages you’ll also meet Maya and Zuni, two orphaned baby hummingbirds who hatched from eggs the size of navy beans, and who are little more than air bubbles fringed with feathers. Their lives hang precariously in the balance—but with human help, they may one day conquer the sky.

Snowball is a cockatoo whose dance video went viral on YouTube and who’s now teaching schoolchildren how to dance. You’ll meet Harris’s hawks named Fire and Smoke. And you’ll come to know and love a host of other avian characters who will change your mind forever about who birds really are.

Each of these birds shows a different and utterly surprising aspect of what makes a bird a bird—and these are the lessons of Birdology: that birds are far stranger, more wondrous, and at the same time more like us than we might have dared to imagine. In Birdology, beloved author of The Good Good Pig Sy Montgomery explores the essence of the otherworldly creatures we see every day. By way of her adventures with seven birds—wild, tame, exotic, and common—she weaves new scientific insights and narrative to reveal seven kernels of bird wisdom.

The first lesson of Birdology is that, no matter how common they are, Birds Are Individuals, as each of Montgomery’s distinctive Ladies clearly shows. In the leech-infested rain forest of Queensland, you’ll come face to face with a cassowary—a 150-pound, man-tall, flightless bird with a helmet of bone on its head and a slashing razor-like toenail with which it (occasionally) eviscerates people—proof that Birds Are Dinosaurs. You’ll learn from hawks that Birds Are Fierce; from pigeons, how Birds Find Their Way Home; from parrots, what it means that Birds Can Talk; and from 50,000 crows who moved into a small city’s downtown, that Birds Are Everywhere. They are the winged aliens who surround us.

explains just how very "other" birds are: Their hearts look like those of crocodiles. They are covered with modified scales, which are called feathers. Their bones are hollow. Their bodies are permeated with extensive air sacs. They have no hands. They give birth to eggs. Yet despite birds’ and humans’ disparate evolutionary paths, we share emotional and intellectual abilities that allow us to communicate and even form deep bonds. When we begin to comprehend who birds really are, we deepen our capacity to approach, understand, and love these otherworldly creatures. And this, ultimately, is the priceless lesson of Birdology: it communicates a heartfelt fascination and awe for birds and restores our connection to these complex, mysterious fellow creatures.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1 edition (April 6 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416569847
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416569848
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.3 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #483,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Sy Montgomery does for birds what Jane Goodall did for apes. With an infectious sense of adventure, and a sense of awe and mystery, her stories change the way we look at even the most 'common' birds and instill in us a deep sense of gratitude that we are privileged to share this planet with such delightful creatures. Birdology is bound to become a classic." -- Stacey O'Brien, author of Wesley the Owl

"Spell-binding, absolutely compelling, and so beautifully expressed, Birdology tells stories that everyone should know. Nobody has ever gone so far into the minds of birds as Montgomery has. She completely conveys the life, the obsession, the fascination with birds in an intimate, personal, and engaging style. A magnificent achievement." -- Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie about Love

"Sy Montgomery may be the best interpreter of animals of all time. With impeccable science and profound respect, Birdology describes the miracle of these apparently familiar beings. We take them for granted and that is our mistake. In fact, they are dinosaurs, still living on earth after two hundred and thirty five million years, with minds and abilities that often far surpass our own. One seldom finds a real page-turner as a source of important information, yet Birdology is all of that and more." -- Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs and The Social Life of Dogs

"From the first greeting of her charming hens to her celebration of crows in all their smarts and wit, Sy Montgomery has me hooked. One cannot read this book without imagining birds as special people, with emotions and personalities and sometimes an intellect not all that different from our own." -- Dr. Don Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds

"Sy Montgomery has once again taken animal writing to another level of consciousness, compassion and understanding. Birdology is a brilliant, strikingly original, and beautifully written look into the fragile, rich story of birds, whose lives as more varied, endangered, individualistic, and powerful than dogs and cats. I've never read anything like this about birds. These stories will haunt and enrich you, and they remind us how important birds are to our history and ecosystem. And how much they need our attention." -- Jon Katz, author of A Dog Year and Katz on Dogs

"Sy Montgomery has the mind of a scientist and the fierceness of a raptor as she dives beneath the skin and deep into the bones of the avian world in Birdology. Brimming with insights about hidden bird abilities and the secrets of their behavior, the book is at its heart about the emotional bond between birds and people. Whether describing the gentle art of keeping hens or the bloodcurdling perils of falconry, Sy's writing dazzles like hummingbird feathers drenched in blazing sunshine." -- Bob Tarte, author of Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather

"One of America's pre-eminent writers on animals, the immensely talented Sy Montgomery leads us on a compelling journey of exploration into the very depths of what makes a bird a bird. With wit, compassion, and a cornucopia of fascinating facts, she delves into the lives and sensibilities of seven types of birds, tracing our relationship to them throughout evolution and human history. From hawks to hummingbirds and crows to cassowaries, Sy highlights bird language, individuality, homing and hunting abilities, and relationship to dinosaurs in a manner that not only reveals her deep love for birds, but also her inner quest to understand all living things. With this book, birders, animal-lovers, or anyone with a with a mild curiosity about birds, will gain a new-found respect and appreciation for the essence of these avian marvels." -- Don and Lillian Stokes, authors of Stokes Field Guide to Birds

"There could be no better guide to the wonder of birds than Sy Montgomery. Her empathy with wild things is as real as it is rare; yet she seems to like the people who study, care for, and work with birds just as much. This is a book about intense connections between people and birds. Montgomery unlocks some of the secret of how and what birds may be thinking. Read it, and you will never look at a parrot, chicken, hawk or pigeon in quite the same way again." -- Julie Zickefoose, NPR commentator; author of Letters from Eden

"Montgomery weaves a delightful, insightful story of the unusual lives of familiar birds to show us that they are personable, fun, annoying, lovable, and awesome and do indeed, strike into our very souls. Her tales are an astonishing, wide-ranging blend of science, art, humor, understanding, and love, and a must read for all animal lovers. Montgomery captures not only the incredible and astonishing variety of bird behavior and intelligence, but the essence of the very soul of birds." -- Joanna Burger, Distinguished Professor of Biology, and author of The Parrot Who Owns Me

"This is my favorite kind of book: charming, witty, and wise, idiosyncratic and inspiring. And Birdology is Sy Montgomery at her very best. Not a catalog, list, or inventory, Birdology is more like a novel, a confession, or an engaging memoir of life lived with soul and wings. I love this book." -- Dale Peterson, author of Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man and Elephant Reflections

About the Author

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author of twenty acclaimed books of nonfiction for adults and children, including the memoir The Good Good Pig, which was a national bestseller. The recipient of numerous honors, including lifetime achievement awards from the Humane Society and the New England Booksellers Association, she lives in New Hampshire with her husband, border collie, and flock of chickens.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  41 reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Birds are people too April 23 2010
By Enjolras - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
To quote one of the people in Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur, Sy Montgomery's goal in this book is allow readers to "experiences the divinity of creation revealed in the birds." Montgomery profiles chickens, cassowaries, hummingbirds, hawks, pigeons, parrots, and crows, each with its unique personality quirks and traits. The end result is a delight to read, especially for avid birders or ornithologists.

Birdology isn't a natural history of birds or observations of them in the wild. Ironically, most of the birds Montgomery meets live in captivity of some sort, from her chickens (the "Ladies") to hawks used for falconry (only the cassowaries were truly wild birds). In fact, each chapter seems to focus both on a different species of bird and a person who knows it well, such as a pigeon racer or hummingbird vet.

I had mixed feelings about this. Obviously, birds are at their fullest in the wild, and that's where it would really be great to see them. At times, Birdology feels a bit too much like a book about "people and their birds." On the other hand, focusing on these particular birds allows Montgomery to really get to know them well and provide detailed observations. For example, after years of watching her hens in her backyard, she has noticed that certain personality traits are passed from one generation to the next - what we would call culture. Chicken culture - imagine that!

While Montgomery loves her birds, she resists the temptation to anthropomorphize them. In fact, the best parts of Birdology discuss how birds are different from humans in ways we don't yet fully appreciate. Many birds still have strong instinctual impulses, from the gull chicks who incessantly peck at red objects to the overwhelming urge birds of prey have to hunt (known as "yarak"). She also suggests Alex, the famous African Grey Parrot, had trouble learning some colors because parrot vision recognizes a broader spectrum of colors than does our own.

I do wish Montgomery had chosen more birds to profile, especially when the goal of her book is to give readers some sense of what it means to be a bird. Some of the stories of the more familiar birds have been told in different forms elsewhere. For example, the discussion of Alex the Parrot is also the subject of Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process. Others birds, such as pigeons and crows, are fascinating if not exotic. It would have been nice for example to have had a chapter on penguins, a very different type of bird, or the great wandering albatrosses (the subject of Carl Safina's wonderful Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival). There are so many types of birds - over 10,000 species - so it's impossible to cover them all, but I definitely felt there was room in the book for a few more.

Reading Birdology, one gets the feeling that it would be really fun to just be Sy Montgomery. Some of the relationships she's had with birds are truly magical. She doesn't just describe the birds, but also tries to share how it felt emotionally to be in the presence of such wonderful animals. I thought it fascinating for example to hear her describe the hawk as master and the human handling it as the servant. For those of us who haven't been able to spend much time with birds, Birdology conveys that sense of wonder.

Note: If you want a straight up natural history of birds, I might suggest David Attenborough's The Life of Birds or Colin Tudge's The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live. The latter is a bit dry, but comprehensive.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BIRDS YOU'VE NEVER MET May 24 2010
By Joan Tomaszewski - Published on
Having read "The Good, Good Pig" by the same author, I was excited to try her book on birds. What a treat! You'll learn the truth about birds you thought you knew, and meet some new ones you probably never even heard of. Highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven May 31 2011
By Lea - Published on
This is probably more like a 2.5 or 3 star book for me. It was very interesting, but uneven. Divided into seven sections -- each illustrating a characteristic of birds in general by focusing on one species -- some were charming (chickens), fascinating (cassowary), and astounding (hummingbirds). But about halfway through, the book started to slow down. The final four sections (hawks, pigeons, parrots, and crows) each had interesting insights, but were much weaker than the first three. The author's continual references to her vegetarianism got very old after a while, and the final section on crows went overboard with the eco-message. I would probably recommend another book -- Pigeons by Andrew Blechman -- instead of this one. I'm sure there are also other wonderful books on each of the species presented here, and it would be worthwhile to search those out for a more in-depth look.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birdology is a Wonderful Book! A truly unique perspective on birds, and beautifully written Aug. 19 2010
By john98 - Published on
I have read all of author/naturalist Sy Montgomery's books. In Birdology, Montgomery manages again to do what she does so well: to blend extensive information about animals with enormous empathy for them, with unusual insights into their lives derived from her personal experiences with diverse creatures. Birdology looks at the lives and abilities and evolution of birds from this unique perspective, using several particular species as exemplars. Along the way one also learns about her adventures while exploring the avian world. This is a wonderfully engaging book; I enjoyed it very much, and highly recommend it to all!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lively, fun leisure reading for aviary fans and general fans of wildlife evolves July 19 2010
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
BIRDOLOGY: ADVENTURES WITH A PACK OF HENS, A PECK OF PIGEONS, CANTANKEROUS CROWS, FIERCE FALCONS, HIP HOP PARROTS, BABY HUMMINGBIRDS, AND ONE MURDEROUSLY BIG LIVING DINOSAUR provides general interest libraries with a fun account answering questions about avian personalities and present birds. Each chapter tells about a relationship or adventure with a bird whose species illustrates keys on what makes a bird a bird. Lively, fun leisure reading for aviary fans and general fans of wildlife evolves.

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