The Atlantic: Why Birds Do What They Do. “The more humans understand about their behavior, the more inaccessible their world seems.” By Jenny Odell.
“In all this struggling to imagine, I encounter a certain irony: The more I know about birds, the more inaccessible their perceptual world seems to me. From Jennifer Ackerman’s The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, I learned that birds such as the vinous-throated parrotbill and the black Jacobin hummingbird make sounds beyond our range of hearing, while the mating displays of male black manakins feature a “high-speed somersault” so fast that humans can see it only in slowed-down video. Birds see colors that we never will, and distinguish among colors that look the same to us. Writing about how they interpret a wall of foliage as “a detailed three-dimensional world of highly contrasting individual leaves,” Ackerman laments that she has tried to see what birds see, but humans just can’t differentiate among the greens.
Learning more also means having more questions. Both books include recent research that illuminates new behavior, whose mechanics and purpose remain hypothetical or totally unknown. Ackerman writes that veeries, a type of North American thrush, can anticipate hurricanes months in advance, adjusting their nesting and migration schedules accordingly—but the way they do it is a “deep mystery.””
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