A science writer, Ackerman here explores the myths, mysteries, and magnificence of owls. Throughout human history, she writes, owls have been present in the human experience—in our art, language, stories, myths, omens, and emblems. Today, advances in technology and science--from DNA analysis to cutting-edge imaging technology, from nest cams to drones to satellite transmitters--are enabling researchers to discern more about the planet’s 260 species of owls than ever before. This book is a primer on how owls see, hear, fly, hunt, nest, court, mate, play, think and, yes, feel. It is up to humans, Ackerman says, to do more to protect the environment and creatures like owls who are so essential to our ecosystems.
A book of questions, theories, and answers—all the more intriguing for being partial—Ackerman’s compelling third study of birds could as well be titled “What Humans Don’t Know about Owls But are Determined to Find Out.” Each of the thematic chapters delves into a basic “how” of owl life—from courting, mating, and breeding to migrating, hunting, feeding, nesting, and perceiving the world—and explores how different species have adapted to their particular niches. A burrowing owl will collect (or hoard?) a wide range of colorful, often man-made objects to decorate its underground nest, for instance. A saw-whet owl is so “cryptic” it can stay invisible even as it calls from a tree beside you. And urban owlets practice hunting by raiding clothes lines. But owl behavior is just half of Ackerman’s story. She also introduces the many, equally fascinating humans who study these creatures, reporting on the awe and wonder that drew them to the woods in the first place and that—literally—keeps them up nights listening to calls, searching high and low for elusive nests, counting and banding birds, and solving one mystery with the discovery of several more.
Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894-1992) was born into the Swedish aristocracy, joined the Red Cross in WWI, married a White Russian soldier in 1918, then, a widow, moved to rural Canada in 1927 where she was, first, a nurse (heading the team that cared for the Dionne quintuplets), then a science writer and naturalist. Making it her mission and her passion to “understand…how birds are,” and to present as closely as possible a sense of the world from their point of view rather than that of the human observer, she spent nearly 60 years compiling meticulous, daily reports on the avian life around her woodland Ontario home. These records—detailing appearance, behavior, and each species’ interactions with all facets of their environment—fed a steady stream of journal articles, both scholarly and popular, and award-winning books ranging from illustrated children’s stories to memoir, biography, and groundbreaking studies of individual bird species. Simonds, herself a versatile writer and devoted birder, has adopted her subject’s thorough and enthusiastic approach. Her beautifully written book is steeped in all of Lawrence’s writings—published and unpublished—as well as a deep familiarity with her beloved Loghouse woods.