Human Nature of Birds: A Scientific Discovery with Startling Implications

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9780140234947: Human Nature of Birds: A Scientific Discovery with Startling Implications

A provocative new study of birds, humans, and the deepest prejudices of Western science--developed from six years of independent research by a behavioral scientist. In the spirit of the New York Times bestseller The Hidden Life of Dogs. Color photos.

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Review:

In this provocative book about avian intelligence and communication--which are much more elaborate and deep than scientists once thought--behavioral scientist Theodore Xenophon Barber posits that birds share many qualities that humans have assumed are unique to themselves. Among these qualities, he says, are the ability to form abstract concepts, "to play with joy and mate erotically," and to adapt to a variety of situations. It is largely because avian knowledge is not carried across generations that their past thinking is lost, he continues, which leads people to assume that birds are thoughtless. With an eye to disarming critics of cognitive ethology, Barber reminds his readers that Charles Darwin reached similar conclusions. Whatever the case, bird lovers will find The Human Nature of Birds a fascinating curiosity.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A lively introduction to research on avian intelligence that builds to a passionate cry for a revolution in human thought. Though a self-described ``hardheaded skeptic,'' Barber (a research scientist with 30 years' experience) was so impressed by the writings of Donald R. Griffin on animal intelligence (Animal Minds, 1992, etc.) that he immersed himself for six years in studies of bird behavior. His conclusion: We greatly underestimate the intelligence, awareness, and humanlike qualities of birds. In fact, Barber asserts that birds possess intelligence that is in some areas (e.g., navigation) superior to our own. He also cites studies showing that birds have individual personalities, express emotions, demonstrate altruism, use tools, create complex musical compositions, and communicate meaningfully with each other (and with humans). The author includes delightful anecdotes about individual birds, such as Alex, an African gray parrot that could ask and answer questions involving quantity, shape, and color of objects; could coin words; and could construct simple sentences to tell his keepers about his needs. Having demonstrated that birds are not simple creatures operating solely on instinct, Barber moves on to studies of intelligence in other animals--apes, cetaceans, fish, ants, and honeybees--and calls for further research on other species. For the author, the implications of widespread animal intelligence are truly revolutionary: He foresees that, as human awareness of animal intelligence grows, philosophy, science, religion, and even the destiny of the human race will change, since reverence for all life will grow and destruction of the environment will cease. The text includes three appendices: one, on the cognitive ethology revolution, is directed to Barber's colleagues; another, on befriending birds, is aimed at a wider audience; and a final one lists the scientific names of various birds. Science presented with enthusiasm--entertaining and enlightening. (Eight pages of color photographs--not seen) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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