THE HUMAN NATURE OF BIRDS by Theodore Xenophon Barber


A Scientific Discovery with Startling Implications
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 A lively introduction to research on avian intelligence that builds to a passionate cry for a revolution in human thought. Though a self-described ``hardheaded skeptic,'' Barber (a research scientist with 30 years' experience) was so impressed by the writings of Donald R. Griffin on animal intelligence (Animal Minds, 1992, etc.) that he immersed himself for six years in studies of bird behavior. His conclusion: We greatly underestimate the intelligence, awareness, and humanlike qualities of birds. In fact, Barber asserts that birds possess intelligence that is in some areas (e.g., navigation) superior to our own. He also cites studies showing that birds have individual personalities, express emotions, demonstrate altruism, use tools, create complex musical compositions, and communicate meaningfully with each other (and with humans). The author includes delightful anecdotes about individual birds, such as Alex, an African gray parrot that could ask and answer questions involving quantity, shape, and color of objects; could coin words; and could construct simple sentences to tell his keepers about his needs. Having demonstrated that birds are not simple creatures operating solely on instinct, Barber moves on to studies of intelligence in other animals--apes, cetaceans, fish, ants, and honeybees--and calls for further research on other species. For the author, the implications of widespread animal intelligence are truly revolutionary: He foresees that, as human awareness of animal intelligence grows, philosophy, science, religion, and even the destiny of the human race will change, since reverence for all life will grow and destruction of the environment will cease. The text includes three appendices: one, on the cognitive ethology revolution, is directed to Barber's colleagues; another, on befriending birds, is aimed at a wider audience; and a final one lists the scientific names of various birds. Science presented with enthusiasm--entertaining and enlightening. (Eight pages of color photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: July 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-09308-X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1993


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