The Bird Way Book Summary By Jennifer Ackerman

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The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman is an incredible book that taps into the wisdom of both professional ornithologists, and amateur birdwatchers alike.

It takes a joyous look at the remarkable diversity of birds, as well as their astonishing behaviors.

From Costa Rica’s lush tropics to the magpie-filled suburbs of Australia, this book dives deep into the minds of these often misunderstood creatures – examining how they hunt, play, and parent each other.

Ackerman expertly demonstrates that there is far more to birds than meets the eye, providing a thought-provoking journey into their world.

The Bird Way Book

Book Name: The Bird Way (A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think)

Author(s): Jennifer Ackerman

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 22 Minutes

Categories: Nature & the Environment

Author Bio

Jennifer Ackerman is an acclaimed American science writer and author of best-selling books.

Her book, "The Bird Way", is a perfect introduction to birds and the science behind their behaviors.

Through researching thousands of studies done by scientists around the world, as well as her own fieldwork in over forty countries, Jennfier Ackerman gives a deeper insight into avian behavior and its implications for our own mortality.

Her other works include "Ah-Choo", which takes a look at the common cold and how it affects us, as well as "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" which tells the story of how we use our bodies every single day.

A regular contributor to Scientific American, National Geographic, and the New York Times publications, Jennifer has been awarded numerous grants and endowments, such as the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction.

Exploring The Amazing Diversity Of Bird Behavior And Intelligence


The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman is an exploration of the vast, varied birdlife that can be found around the globe.

From magpies to ravens, crows and birds of prey, no stones are left unturned in this truly comprehensive and captivating look into the fascinating world of birds.

Ackerman not only explains why some birds behave differently than others (it all comes down to reproduction!), but she also delves into the unique habits that different species have developed.

For instance, you’ll learn why magpies will attack mail carriers or cyclists, how ravens use their wits to play games with each other, and why fire-making is a key skill for birds of prey.

This truly is a global exploration of bird life.

By reading The Bird Way you’ll gain a better appreciation for these incredible creatures and gain valuable insight into their diverse and complex behavior.

The Key Message Of This Article: Birds Are Highly Intelligent Tool-Makers

When it comes to finding food, birds are incredibly adept at using tools.

Whether they live in a forest, desert or city, birds use tools to search for and extract resources that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.

For example, herons use leaves and dead insects to lure aquatic prey, while gulls and ravens drop clams and nuts onto rocks.

Sittella songbirds also use twigs to probe for food in the crevices of gum trees.

Elsewhere in the world, the woodpecker finch from the Galapagos Islands creates its own tools by modifying cacti spikes with its beak.

But most impressively, New Caledonia’s crows make sticks with barbed ends out of pandanus leaves in order to pull grubs out of smaller holes.

These animals have an innate ability to create multipart tools and even apply principles of gravity while crafting their utensils – something few non-mammalian species can do with such finesse!

They may not have been around as long as humans but when it comes down to the basics of gathering food, even a bird-brain has its advantages!

Firehawks Of Northern Australia Prove Fire Is Not Just Beneficial But Also A Clever Tool For Some Birds Of Prey

Certain birds of prey, such as raptors, hawks and kites, have developed an innate knowledge about the benefits of fire.

Scientists call this pyric carnivory, which is literally “fire meat-eating”: fires flush out small animals like voles, mice and rodents; providing a large population for these birds to feast on.

In certain parts of the world, some raptors have taken it even further by starting their own fires!

Researchers have named these amazing birds “firehawks” or “pyro-hawks” and they are found in Northern Australia.

It is believed that they fly into active blazes and pick up smoldering sticks to drop them over unburnt grassland.

This enables them to be first at the scene when there’s a new food source created by the fire; giving them the best chance of getting their fill.

It is quite astounding how smartly these raptors measure up to us humans – using fire to alter the environment and gain more calories!

Fire thus plays an important role in helping birds of prey find food.

Some Animals Use Kleptoparasitism To Freeload Off The Hard Work Of Other Species, Such As Army Ants, To Get Their Daily Meal


Army ants are fierce predators, marching in advance with powerful mandibles and venomous stingers.

But even these imposing insects have their own set of natural enemies- namely, ant followers.

These clever birds circle around the swarms of ants, using their formidable prowess to profit off their prey and gather their own meals.

This strategy is called “kleptoparasitism” – stealing or freeloading off another animal’s source of food – and it’s a super successful way for them to get their daily meals.

The trick lies in being able to spot the army ants and then capitalizing on them by snatching up anything panicked by the advancing group of predators.

Ant followers love eating larger insects like roaches, crickets, spiders, and scorpions – disproportionately large sources of nutrition that would take an entire day to hunt down normally.

With the assistance of an aggressive swarm such as those led by Eciton Burchellii (or Army Ants), these birds can devour 50 hefty snacks within the span of two hours!

So whether you’re human or bird – if this kind of scavenging works for you, look no further than army ants!

Ravens Are More Than Just Gloomy Birds – They Enjoy Having Fun Too

Some people don’t think of ravens as playful birds.

They’re usually associated with dark and gloomy places, and the poet Edgar Allen Poe even described them as “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous.” However, if you observe them closely enough, you’ll discover that these birds have a fun side.

Ravens are known for engaging in activities like flying away with sticks, surfing down pebbly river banks, landing on roofs with shaky tiles and performing elaborate aerial barrel rolls.

Such seemingly frivolous behavior has baffled scientists since it expends energy better spent on growing or hunting – not to mention risking their safety from potential predators!

The answer may come from Karl Groos, a German philosopher who theorized that play allows animals to hone vital life skills such as hunting and fighting.

Another possibility is that playing makes these birds feel good – brain scans show that when they engage in playful activities dopamine is released in their brains which indicates pleasurable sensations.

What’s more interesting is that ravens will sometimes sacrifice food to have more playtime!

So while they’re certainly still secretive and cunning birds, one thing’s for certain: Ravens are highly playful creatures too!

No Two Species’ Eggs Or Nests Are Alike

Birds lay eggs, and no two species are the same when it comes to their eggs and nests.

This is highlighted in The Bird Way book written by Will Feeney, a bird researcher who lives just outside of Brisbane.

It is fascinating to learn about the different ways that diverse birds build their nests.

Take the brush turkey, for example; they construct an impressive mound at the center of a 300 foot radius with every plant within their reach.

This decomposing mass generates enough heat to keep the eggs warm during incubation!

Other methods include those used by little grebes; making a floating platform nest out of twigs or sparrows entirely building a nest in trees with various materials including nicotine-averse items such as cigarette butts.

For male hornbills, they even seal their entire family up inside a mud-covered cave and use a small chute to feed them!

The size of bird eggs also vary wildly from tiny hummingbird’s egg weighing just 0.007 ounces, to near bullet-proof ostrich’s egg that needs 120 pounds of pressure if you hope to break it.

No matter which type of bird you are looking at, their eggs and nesting methods are truly one-of-a-kind.

Birds Use Many Different Strategies To Defend Their Nests And Eggs, Ranging From Trickery, Like Pretending To Be Hurt To Lure Predators Away, To Aggression By Attacking Potential Threats With Their Beaks And Claws

Potential Threats

Birds use a variety of strategies to defend their nests and eggs, as they must protect them from two main enemies: predation and the weather.

For instance, the East African Superb Starling builds its nests in thorny Acacia trees, which are favored by aggressive ant species; this discourages predators who are on the hunt for eggs.

Piping plovers employ deception to draw away any potential predators; they fake an injured wing and drag it along the beach until the predator is distracted.

Other birds use brute force as a defense mechanism; magpies can have an impressive memory of 30 faces over 20 years and sequentially attack people who anger them season after season.

Finally, other birds rely on camouflage to protect themselves and their eggs with elaborate designs of colors and textures helping them blend in with their surroundings.

No matter what strategy is employed – trickery, brute force or disguise – birds around the world have found creative ways to protect their eggs from harm’s way!

Birds Demonstrate Amazing Versatility In Parenting

Birds are known for their unique and diverse parenting styles.

Eclectus parrots, for example, raise their chicks in the high rainforest canopy, guarding the precious hollows to ensure their safety – a behavior which other birds may not adopt.

In fact, many birds break the ‘male-female team’ mold; bald eagles have been spotted with two males raising a single female chick and there have even been reports of great horned owls (among others) having two females co-parenting in the same nest.

Other bird species use communal or day-care systems to share the workload and resources associated with raising young chicks.

This is especially evident among common merganser ducks, where up to 76 younglings may be cared for by one adult.

But it doesn’t stop there!

Birds often take on workloads that make no evolutionary sense by cross-fostering chicks belonging to other species – a phenomenon known as interspecific parenting – and this can be attributed either to environmental factors or simply by the powerful instinct of being a parent.

Regardless of its reasoning, this incredible diversity truly shows just how amazing birds are!

Wrap Up

The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman is a fascinating look into the world of bird behavior and adaptation.

This book highlights two core challenges faced by all birds – tracking down food and protecting their nests – and shows us how ingenious solutions have evolved over time to solve these problems.

We learn about fascinating instances of tool-making from some species, exploiting grassland fires or ant swarms for food, as well as strategies for defending nests from predators.

But this book also demonstrates that there is much more to birds than their evolutionary capabilities – displaying a variety of behaviors ranging from playfulness to altruism.

The Bird Way is ultimately an inspiring story filled with interesting anecdotes and tips on how we can better appreciate the complexity and triumphs of avian life.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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