Review of Birdology

The following is a review of Sy Montgomery’s Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur. This review is written by Birdfreak Team member Susan Callaway. The book was sent to us by the publisher to review and the links are Amazon affiliate links. Enjoy!

Sy Montgomery is the author of the national bestseller The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood.

In Birdology, author and naturalist, Sy Montgomery, takes the reader along with her as she studies the relationship between humans and birds and attempts to understand the “otherness” and “essence” of being a bird. In her introduction, the author explains that to be a birdologist, “you just have to appreciate birds and be intentional about appreciating birds in some way.”

This book differs from most other books marketed towards birders. Birdology is not a field guide or a scientific study on birds/bird behavior. Instead it reads like a memoir with the author writing mostly about her personal experiences with birds, not in the field (for the most part) but in captivity.

The book is comprised of seven chapters, each studying a different aspect of bird life. The seven chapters include: chickens (raising them), cassowary (searching for them), hummingbirds (rehabilitation), hawks (falconry), pigeons (raising and racing them), parrots (language), and crows (conflict with humans—i.e. overpopulation).

The way Montgomery visits avian life is offered through her unique perspective—this is both the book’s strongest feature and its weakest point. At its best, Birdology draws the reader in. For example, I couldn’t put the book down during the chapter on hummingbirds, as I waited to see if little Zuni and Maya, the rescued Allen’s hummingbirds, would survive. On the other hand, Montgomery seems to romanticize every encounter she has with birds. In some ways, her obvious awe in everything Bird is endearing—but it also takes away her credibility.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the book are the little nuggets of scientific information that Montgomery peppers each chapter with. Birders of all walks of life as well as non-birders will gain new insights from this quick read. For example, I learned that pigeons produce a kind of milk and that a mother oystercatcher will abandon her nest if “presented with a giant fake egg” by researchers. Montgomery also discusses how birds can understand language (the chapter on parrots) and how birds have evolved from dinosaurs (Montgomery’s quest to spot a cassowary).

This book isn’t for everyone. Serious birders may be turned off by some of Montgomery’s experiences, such as her foray into falconry. Others may appreciate her honest desire to fully engulf herself into every experience, and may become interested in learning more about something they had never given much thought to—such as watching individual behaviors in chickens. A couple of the chapters lagged a little, but, overall, I found this anecdotal study in Birdology to be entertaining as well as informative.

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