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Mini review: 'The Private Lives of Birds'

July 16, 2010 | 11:10 am

Our mini review of the new nonfiction book "The Private Lives of Birds: A Scientist Reveals the Intricacies of Avian Social Life" by Bridget Stutchbury, published by Walker and Company.

"I am a bird detective," explains Bridget Stutchbury, "revealing the behind-the-scenes details of the social lives of birds to understand why females cheat on their mates, what makes a male attractive, why some pairs divorce, how birds claim a territory...and what all this means not only for our avian friends, but for us as well."

Hey, we’ll take advice from anyone, especially if they can fly. Stutchbury loves her work, voyeuristic as it may seem. She has spent the last 20 years "mounting miniature radio-tracking devices on songbirds so I can study how and why they cheat on their mates." For 20 years she has taken notes and trained her ears to listen for changing moods, angry warnings, communicated needs and signals from species other than her own.

Unlike many scientists, Stutchbury is entirely comfortable using the emotional language of humans to describe bird behavior and even learn from it: "There are many fascinating stories hidden in the melodies of the robin, the flash of orange on the redstart, and the male tanager who feeds his incubating mate."

See more reviews by Susan Salter Reynolds in this Sunday's L.A. Times.

-- Susan Salter Reynolds

Photo: A common nightingale. Credit: hhhalberto via Flickr

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