Review – What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World

What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young is an easy-to-understand guide to learning bird vocalization and how to interpret the dynamic world of animals.

The American Robin is common, bold, and entertaining and provides the starting point of learning the secrets of birds in What the Robin Knows. This sometimes overlooked, boisterous bird is a great study subject because they are so common and often obvious in their behaviors and vocalizations.

Mr. Young explains that there are five types of vocalizations of birds: songs, companion calls, territorial aggression, adolescent begging, and alarms.

The first four vocalizations are the “baseline”. By discovering this pattern you can identify deviations outside the pattern. A whole chapter is dedicated to the fifth vocalization, alarms, as they are outside the baseline.

American Robin

Along with alarms is a chapter on the “shapes” of alarms. These shapes are formed when different threats are encountered by birds.

Drawings help illustrate the various shape types: bird plow, sentinel, popcorn, hook, cat, and more. Learning these will help you determine what the threat is and what direction you can expect it to come from.

The whole book is focused on improving your senses; from using “owl vision”, “deer hearing”, and learning to walk in a way to cause less disturbance. We are often the cause of the “bird plow” and often our area of disturbance is often greater than our area of awareness.

Mr. Young encourages the use of a sit spot and explains how vital it is to learning bird behavior. These spots provide a quiet, ongoing location to let the birds come to you and to observe them with limited disturbance.

The appendix on learning bird language is an invaluable resource to study on a regular basis to put everything together. This section is worthy of reviewing weekly if possible as you engage in your quest to understand birds.

Finally, there is online access to bird (and other animal) sounds that are cross-referenced throughout the book.*

What the Robin Knows is a great book and we highly recommend it for birders of all levels. From the day I received this book I’ve been working on putting the ideas into use and they work great!

American Robin

Disclaimer: we received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on Birdfreak.com. The links are Amazon Affiliate links.

*Originally I had stated about a CD but the sounds are accessed online.

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