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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Genius of Birds, a radical investigation into the bird way of being, and the recent scientific research that is dramatically shifting our understanding of birds - how they live and how they think.

"There is the mammal way and there is the bird way." But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviors they have, for years, dismissed as anomalies or mysteries - what they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, survive. They are also revealing the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, abilities we once considered uniquely our own: deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, infanticide, but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play. 

Some of these extraordinary behaviors are biological conundrums that seem to push the edges of, well, birdness: a mother bird that kills her own infant sons, and another that selflessly tends to the young of other birds as if they were her own; a bird that collaborates in an extraordinary way with one species - ours - but parasitizes another in gruesome fashion; birds that give gifts and birds that steal; birds that dance or drum, that paint their creations or paint themselves; birds that build walls of sound to keep out intruders and birds that summon playmates with a special call - and may hold the secret to our own penchant for playfulness and the evolution of laughter. 

Drawing on personal observations, the latest science, and her bird-related travel around the world, from the tropical rainforests of eastern Australia and the remote woodlands of northern Japan, to the rolling hills of lower Austria and the islands of Alaska's Kachemak Bay, Jennifer Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect, in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behavior, birds vary. It is what we love about them. As E.O Wilson once said, when you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all.

©2020 Jennifer Ackerman (P)2020 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about The Bird Way

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    4 out of 5 stars

Good Work but it doesn’t scale

This work is a buckshot review of recent research on bird species in which birds demonstrate cognitive capacities — she talks about crows building hooks as tools, episodic memory, tulvings theory that it supports time travel, but without any of the neuroscience or zoological context, which has always been a problem with bird researchers and those that report on them — they like the primatologists feel like they don’t have enough respect, and so make extravagant compensory claims about tool use, language, etc. evidenced by recent research.

What they miss is Scale. Birds and mammals/primates are all vertebrates and share endoneural capacities that a map the environment via the hippocampus, have a working memory, etc. — but to say, a crow is capable of designing a tool — I’ve personally had a crow bop me on the head to say, hey, i saw you still have nuts in your pocket. We want them. I tested him the nest day, and it happened again, and it happened a year later. That’s intelligence. Yes.

So, 1. Why are crows so smart. I live with two cageless zebra finches, and they are not so smart, although they are individually sentient. So, the question isn’t, like John Marzluff drums into all his books, that crows are smart, but why are they smarter than finches ... and if you read about the differences in where fledglings go, things start to make sense ... but you can’t just preen on toolmaking or other examples, and say, see. See. Aren’t these birds smart? What does that tell us. It’s just reporting, and trivial after enough examples.

2. It doesn’t scale. A bird may make a complex tool out of available material in its environment, but it cannot create technology, it cannot be human. To argue that birds or primates are as intelligent as humans is to lose the notion of scale and what a brain is — it is a clump of inter neurons — and every domain of genetic code for animals has produced an increasingly complex set of inter neurons — higher intelligence requires inhibition, not amplification ... but you can’t make an animal think beyond its neuronal circuitry, and if you can’t understand that, as a researcher, how can you investigate intelligence with any value to the human community rather than one’s own prestige and pride of career choice and social status.

If you don’t do the work, and just interview scientists who are flattered to have someone care about their life’s work, you get what you get here — a very intelligent well written piece of reporting that is unable to scale her subject to the rest of life

I realize this isn’t written to persuade anyone. It just happens that i am writing book about mice and finches, because the two scale in interesting ways, but represent a mammal and a bird, and to me comparing rather than focusing and exalting a single subject is more useful to readers. I never come away from these books except with an awe of nature/birds/etc. but not a deeper understanding of what it means let alone means to humans. If you want a catalog of cool interesting well described bizarre birds living all over the world that none of us ordinary folks will ever see, this is great. I was just looking for something more. She talks about things she doesn’t actually understand. And. To me that’s a problem. But most people won’t notice — just like my friends and i that worked in animation cringe at effects that my ordinary friends don’t even see. So, there it is.

36 people found this helpful

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If you haven’t read this book, you do not know birds!

I completely enjoyed listening to this book. I’ve been studying birds for decades, but this turned out to be one of the most information-rich experiences of my birding life. I learned lots of new things and found out that I had bought into a lot of misinformation about birds, such as the idea that most have almost no sense of smell. The books conclusion moved me once again to want to do everything in my power to help keep birds common on our planet.

8 people found this helpful

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Missed opportunity for audiobook

First, I’m enjoyed this book at least as much as I did “The Genius of Birds.” Also, I tend to enjoy books more when they are narrated by their authors.

But so much of this book involved songs and calls, it seems a shame that samples were not included in the audio version.

2 people found this helpful

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Extensive Bird Info

If you like detail and phenomenal insight into bird behaviors, this book is for you. Be prepared to settle in for a time commitment as the book is extensive.

2 people found this helpful

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Spot on perspective on bird intelligence vs human

Loved it. the author covers several aspects of bird behaviors and breeding. I loved the last chapter where she makes the point that corvids have been around longer than humans, since birds are the direct descendents of dinosaurs - millions of years - and they may succeed us since we are rapidly destroying the environment.

1 person found this helpful

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love it!

who knew the world of birds was so amazing. i bought her other book immediately after finishing this one.

1 person found this helpful

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Marvelous book

Every page of this book captivated me. Serious science told as a lively conversation . I hope it inspires readers to become bird nerds and truly study these miraculous creatures .

1 person found this helpful

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Birds

Wonderful book if you like birds at all you will love this. More types of birds than you can ever imagine.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating!

I enjoyed the new perspective of this book. it focused on information presented from the female birds needs for creating successful broods. I found it fascinating how this shift in perspective opened up so much more information! I loved the variety of bird species and behaviors that were discussed from around the world . High point was the fire spreading kites, wow! I have been enlightened! Thank you!

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birds explained

I'm a bird nerd so I loved it. great information and wonderful narration from the author