Magazine article Newsweek

'The Thing with Feathers' Reviewed; A Rising Star in Ornithology Sheds Some Light, but Not Feathers, on His Fascination with Our Feathered Friends

Magazine article Newsweek

'The Thing with Feathers' Reviewed; A Rising Star in Ornithology Sheds Some Light, but Not Feathers, on His Fascination with Our Feathered Friends

Article excerpt

Byline: Jacob E. Osterhout

Bird's the word for Noah Strycker. Once named the American Birding Association's Young Birder of the Year, the 28-year-old ornithologist is a rising superstar in the birding community. He has traveled all over the world--from the Amazon jungle to Antarctica--in his avian odyssey. What's the fascination?

In his latest book, The Thing With Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, Strycker presents essays on 13 birds that reveal a gaggle of intriguing behavioral insights. Ponder the fact that parrots are the only animal besides humans that dance to a beat, or think about how nutcrackers remember the thousands of locations where they've buried seeds.

According to Strycker, "If you look closely enough, many seemingly incredible bird feats have human counterparts, with interesting lessons." Snowy owls fly thousands of miles just for the heck of it. In humans, that translates to wanderlust. Albatrosses mate for life, maintaining a lower divorce rate than humans. And if that's not love, it's certainly an astounding commitment.

At times the connection between bird and human behavior feels tenuous. Strycker spends a chapter discussing how hummingbirds spend all their time flying around so quickly that they become "slaves to speed, desperately fighting for control of calories, so single-minded that they don't even partner up to raise a family." He then references studies that display an increase in humans' walking pace over the past decade in the world's largest cities and asks, "Do we really want to become hummingbirds? …

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