In The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman observes: “Birds learn. They solve new problems and invent novel solutions to old ones. They make and use tools. They count. They copy behaviors from one another. They remember where they put things.”
I agree with Louis Halle that human beings “would be worn out in short order by such intensity of living.”
Ackerman asks, “What kind of intelligence allows a bird to anticipate the arrival of a distant storm? Or find its way to a place it has never seen before, though it may be thousands of miles away? Or precisely imitate the complex songs of hundreds of other species? Or hide tens of thousands of seeds over hundreds of square miles and remember where to put therm six months later?”
Of course, these skills are the result of a process of adaptation that has continued for thousands of years. I agree with Ackerman that birds — such as the New Caledonian crow — can be models “for understanding how our brains learn and remember, how we create language, what mental processes might underlie our problem solving, and how we locate ourselves in space and in social groupings.”
Those who aspire to become lifelong learners and need of role models should read The Genius of Birds with special care. Birds can help them gain the knack for knowing what they’re doing. — for “catching on” to their surroundings, making sense of things, and figuring out how to solve their problems. “In other words,” Ackerman explains, “it’s a flair for meeting environmental and social challenges with acumen and flexibility, which many birds seem to possess in abundance.”
I highly recommend The Genius of Birds as well as Ackerman’s more recent book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think (May 2020). Both were published by Penguin Books and both are available in paperbound editions.