Monday, December 16, 2019

Crows Could be the Smartest Animals Other than Primates

American Crow 
Blogging has been a bit slow lately, in part because I've been busy with a lot of life things. I hope to catch up on reviews in the new month or so. Yes, I've made that promise before. In the meantime I wanted to share a really cool article from BBC. It ties in nicely with a review from 2016 of Crow Smarts by Pamela S. Turner.

Since we moved back to Central Texas I've been seeing a lot more crows. The American Crow is the "default" crow for most of North America and is closely related to Ravens (which are moving into new territories including Central Texas). There are about 40 species of crows and they are found all around the world.

One of the most interesting things in this article is the explanation of crow intelligence and how it differs from primate intelligence. New Caledonian crows, described in Turner's book, actually seek out specific plants to use as tools. Be sure to click on the video clip to see a crow working to accomplish a series of tasks. You can almost see the crow thinking through the process. Amazing! Click the link below for the BBC article.
Pied Crow, Tanzania

Crows Could be the Smartest Animals Other than Primates

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Birds of Every Color

This is a simple and clever introduction to birds that will appeal to many ages. One of the main attractions of birding--the thing we ooh and ahh over--are the amazing colors of birds. From red to green and blue, from shimmering to surreal, Sneed B. Collard III has photographed and described the brilliance of feathers, feet, and other bird features. He explains the source of the colors--the food the birds eat that produce Carotenoids, melanins that the bird produces itself, keratin (like our fingernails) that produces structural coloration, and even refracted light going through feathers (which is also a type of structural coloration). While we love the beautiful and seemingly endless colors, colors serve a variety of purposes for the bird, ranging from recognizing individual birds of their own kind, to attracting mates, and hiding from prey. The colors serve an important purpose in bird survival.

Oversized photos are glorious and illustrate the birds in their natural habitats. Written for two reading levels, each page has short sentences ("Brown colors help birds hide.") for younger readers but also more detailed information about the bird, its colors, and habitat in longer paragraphs that will appeal to older readers. A final double-page spread invites readers to identify the colors seen in an array of multicolored birds. The book ends with a glossary of "Colorful Words."

(Photo by J. Larson)
Collard birds with his son, Braden, who took many of the photos. He is also the author, and photographer, of many other bird books, including Fire Birds and Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding. 

It would be easy to quibble about birds that were not included. Some of my favorite, like the Painted Bunting, appear to have every color. However, what is clear is that Collard has covered a wide range of birds in all their dazzling glory very well. And readers will be on the lookout for even more!

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Crane & Crane

In areas of high growth and construction, we often joke that the state bird is the construction crane. But in many areas of North America we can also enjoy seeing real, live cranes. (In Rockport, the only naturally migrating colony of whooping cranes spend the winters, but we also get sandhill cranes there.)

In Crane & Crane, Linda Joy Singleton compares the construction crane with the sandhill crane.  She very simply, yet clearly, conveys a number of concepts that compare the object with a living thing. This allows her to show more than just the similarities, also visually demonstrating how nature inspires technology and how mechanical things can mirror the natural word.

Using double page spreads to show both a living crane and a construction crane, Singleton encourages readers to view these similarities as a sandhill crane lifts, stretches, honks, grabs, glides, and more. On the facing page a construction crane is performing the same actions and making the same sounds. By the end of the book readers discover that while the construction crane was building a house, the bird was building a nest. A final page labels parts of both cranes.

In addition to showing young readers how both cranes operate, the book teaches verbs. Only the final word, "home," is a noun. Children will enjoy looking at the details and can be encouraged to repeat and act out some of the words, especially onomatopoeic words like "plop" and "swoosh." Watercolor and crayon illustrations by Richard Smythe are bright and light and the pictures add a lot of details to support the single words on each page.

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque Redondo, NM 
While Crane & Crane focuses solely on the sandhill crane, which are found in marshes and fields and prairies throughout much of the northern and southwestern parts of North America, there are many more species in the world with only the sandhill and whooping cranes native to North America. I do wish Singleton had included information specifically on cranes as children who like birds will want to know more about this amazing species. They are among the largest birds in North America with extremely large wingspans. They are also very vocal birds so check out websites like Cornell Lab of Ornithology that provide sound files.

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author but receive no compensation for the review.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sounds of Nature: World of Birds

This is an interesting book because it is interactive, allowing readers to actually hear the sounds of birds in their natural environment. Organized by habitat--rainforest, mountains, desert, prairie, woods, ice, wetlands, city, ocean, and bush--each double-page spread features 6-7 birds, providing a brief description of its sound along with a "press here" button to hear one birdsong per group. The final double-page repeats the sounds (actually it is where the playback equipment is housed) and offers an overview of what a bird is, as well as information on the different orders of birds. The sound buttons are repeated with information on the habitats.

Two cautions: because of the choking hazard from the small sound producing part, the book is not for young children (3 and under) and because the sound producing part is in the back cover it can sometimes take a bit of pressure to produce the sound. The sounds in the book were created in association with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Although it is not possible to identify individual birds in most cases, the book does offer a rare opportunity for kids to hear the sounds of emus, penguins, and other far-flung birds, and they will love creating a cacophony of sound by pushing the buttons. The illustrations are colorful and appealing and reasonably realistic enough to help with identification. The book was a 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12 (National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council).

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author but receive no compensation for the review.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Song for Papa Crow

Many birders identify birds by their call and they use mnemonics to help them remember the calls. In Song for Papa Crow, Marit Menzin introduces the calls of about a dozen birds. Starting with the American Crow, readers learn that not all bird calls are melodious songs. The caw, caw of the crow is so irritating that it chases away the other birds. Although his papa loves his voice, the other birds don't like his singing. Wanting to help his son, Papa asks the Mockingbird to teach Crow to sing. Mockingbird can mimic the songs of other birds and is one of the only birds you will hear at night.

Little Crow wants to sing like the other birds, who make fun of his call and run away. But can Mockingbird's magic whistling seeds help? Well, in this story, the answer is yes, but Little Crow quickly learns that singing and trilling the songs of other birds also means he can't hear danger when Hawk comes calling. Worse, he can't call out to his father for help because he no longer sings his own recognizabel song. Okay, this is a kids book so all ends well when Little Crow spits out the whistling seeds and calls for a flock of crows to help him. And Little Crow learns to love his own song, even if he is singing out of tune.

Fun Facts at the end provide a little bit of information about each bird and the written vocalizations of the calls are accurate and will help young birders identify the calls. Collage illustrations are bright and colorful and clearly show important identification markings for the pictured birds.

While the onomatopoeic written sounds are accurate, readers may want to supplement their skills through some of the great on-line collections of bird songs.  Cornell's Lab of Ornithology has a nice collection, along with tips on learning to identify birds by calls and songs. Just click the link: .

FTC Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author but receive no compensation for the review.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Superlative Birds

Many of us are enthralled by trivia. As kids we pore over the Guiness Book of World Records and as adults we watch quiz games. For birders, Leslie Bulion's book, Superlative Birds, will provide fodder for Jeopardy and send readers to birding books for more information. Here we learn which bird has the loudest voice (spoiler: although several birds have loud voices, the kakapo of New Zealand has a call that can be heard for miles), which bird weighs the least (easy one; the bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world), which is the most gruesome hunter (the shrike is known as the "butcher bird" for a reason), and more. Each superlative is accompanied by a poem and a science note that provides details about the bird and its features. Running commentary by a chickadee answers additional questions and provides details to ponder. There is even a QR code embedded on one page that can be scanned to hear the poem about the Arctic Tern being sung.  Robert Meganck's digital illustrations are whimsical, yet realistic and highlight the superlative feature being discussed.

Shrike (used with permission)

Shrikes are vicious hunters,
impaling insects on barbed wire
(Photo by Jeanette Larson)
As Bulion notes in her final poem, every bird is a superlative bird. But with habitats changing, climate patterns shifting, and pesticides and plastics polluting the earth, the superlative birds she highlights are at risk of disappearing. Back matter includes a glossary and notes on the poetry that explain the style of each poem, and concludes with additional resources for birders. End papers have labeled sketches of the birds; the front identifies the superlatives while the back identifies the bird, allowing for a great trivia contest. With the combination of poetry and science, Superlative Birds provides classroom and curriculum uses that reach beyond birding.

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Best Bird Books of 2018

January always signals the start of the awards season so once again I am sharing Forbes' list of the top bird books of the past year. I've only reviewed one, The Feather Thief, but will be posting about a second, Warblers and Woodpeckers by my friend Sneed B. Collard III, soon. Although I have reviewed several of his books, my review of that book has been delayed by a move from Rockport back to the Austin area. I'll also note that Forbes does not appear to consider books for young people in their review of birding books. Read some of the past year's blog posts for some great books for young people, although I would not dare try to suggest that my reviews make up a "best" list for the year. And keep reading Bird Brainz for some exciting books coming up in 2019. Click here to see the full list and the annotations about the books but the titles are:

  • The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife
  • The Ascent of Birds: How Modern Science Is Revealing Their Story by John Reilly
  • Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction, and Evolution in Hawaii by Daniel Lewis
  • The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet’s Great Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson
  • The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist by Tim Birkhead
  • Mrs Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names by Stephen Moss 
  • The Delightful Horror of Family Birding: Sharing Nature with the Next Generation by Eli J. Knapp
  • Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding by Sneed B. Collard III
  • BirdNote: Chirps, Quirks, and Stories of 100 Birds from the Popular Public Radio Show by BirdNote; edited by Ellen Blackstone
  • Hentopia: Create a Hassle-Free Habitat for Happy Chickens; 21 Innovative Projects by Frank Hyman
  • The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 243 Families, 375 Million Years by Jane Kim