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What an Owl Knows : the new science of the world's most enigmatic birds - Jennifer Ackerman

What an Owl Knows

the new science of the world's most enigmatic birds

By: Jennifer Ackerman

Paperback | 4 July 2023

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds and The Bird Way, a brilliant scientific exploration of owls, the most elusive group of birds, and an investigation into why these remarkable and yet mysterious animals exert such a hold on human imagination.

For centuries, owls have captivated and intrigued us. Our fascination with these mysterious birds was first documented over 30,000 years ago, in the Chauvet cave paintings in southern France, and our enduring awareness and curiosity of their forward gaze and nearly silent flight has cemented the owl as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge, foresight and intuition. But what, really, does an owl know? Though our infatuation goes back centuries, scientists have only recently begun to study these birds in great detail. While more than 270 species exist today, and reside on every continent except Antarctica, owls are far more difficult to find and study than other birds - because while not only cryptic and perfectly camouflaged, owls are most active in the dark of night.

Joining scientists on this maddening and elusive treasure hunt, Jennifer Ackerman brings alive the rich biological history of these animals and reveals the remarkable scientific discoveries into their brains and behaviour. She explores how, with modern technology and tools, researchers now know that owls talk all night long - without opening their bills. That their hoots follow a series of complex rules, allowing them to express needs and desires. That owls duet. They migrate. They use tools. They hoard their prey. Some live in underground burrows, some dine on scorpions.

Ackerman brings this research alive with her own personal field observations about owls, and dives deep too into why this bird endlessly inspires and beguiles us. What an Owl Knows is an awe-inspiring and spellbinding journey across the globe and through human history, and a dazzling account of the astonishing health, hunting skills, communication, and sensory prowess that distinguishes the owl from nearly all other birds. An extraordinary glimpse into the mind of these brilliant animals, What an Owl Knows pulls back the curtain on the the hidden and still undiscovered realities of our shared world.

About the Author

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Her most recent books include Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream- a day in the life of your body; Ah-Choo- the uncommon life of the common cold; Chance in the House of Fate- a natural history of heredity; The Genius of Birds; and Birds by the Shore. A contributor to Scientific American, National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, Ackerman is the recipient of an National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Industry Reviews
'The award-winning science writer dives into the mysterious world of owls ... Ackerman shares recent discoveries by researchers using new tools and technologies as well as her personal observations from the field ... This book, like Ackerman's others, is well written and researched, and the author offers sound advice from experts regarding what individuals can do to help save owls. Fascinating food for thought for owl seekers and sure to please any lover of immersive treks into the lives of birds.'
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review

'In this masterful survey, nature writer Ackerman (The Bird Way) explores the physiology and behaviour of owls. She provides an overview of owls' intelligence, evolution, mating strategies, nest-building abilities, and communication skills, relating how variations in owl calls allow the birds to express "their needs and desires" and convey "highly specific information about their individual identity, and their sex, size, weight, and state of mind." ... There's fascinating trivia on every page (owls perform "sophisticated mathematical computations" to pinpoint prey by sound, and some owl attacks on humans may be attempts to play), making for a revelatory glimpse into the lives of the "enigmatic' raptors. Bird lovers will be enthralled.'
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

'Always eloquent and engaging ... Ackerman's latest vivid and compelling narrative is enlivened by her own passion for owls and her excitement over discoveries in the wild that show that, for humans, owls continue to be full of surprises.'

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