Her knack for catching the personalities of different species in gorgeous, playful prose further collapses comfortable barriers between the human and the birdlike. Light-fingered pairs of ravens will “work a seabird colony the way pickpockets work a beach crowd”; waddling penguins transform into “ballet dancers” underwater. The ornithologists she interviews (as part of a truly astonishing amount of research – there’s barely a page among the 300 that doesn’t namecheck a scientist or cite a study) are odd birds themselves.
Despite there being only four years between The Bird Way and its predecessor, it feels like a revolution has taken place in our understanding of birds in that time. The science here is hard, compelling and presented in Ackerman’s engaging and jargon-free prose, and on every page there is evidence to support the book’s thesis: that to speak of birds en masse is to make a category error, one that blinds us to the extraordinary variance in behaviour, appearance and even biology in these creatures we attempt to trap under the same ontological net. As American naturalist EO Wilson said: “Once you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all...” It’s clear that there’s a virtuous circle at work in the scientific study of birds, so that the more we learn about them, the more we recognise the oversimplification and errors of our previous assumptions, the strange and remarkable otherness of life seen through a bird’s eye view. The Bird Way crystallises and threads together these revelations into a book full of wonders large and small.