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"Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Watching Birds in Your Backyard" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

Filling bird feeders with seeds and suet is part of the daily winter routine for birdwatchers. Later, glancing out the window to watch the winged creatures soar and then fly in and land on the feeder in the cold and snow of winter is a captivating, relaxing part of the day.

Author Joan Strassmann challenges birders to do more than glance out the window at the birds, she urges readers to take a long contemplative look at them. In “Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard,” Strassmann, an animal behaviorist and professor of biology at Washington University, suggests we slow down and deliberately study and learn from the remarkable birds in our everyday places.

The professor lives in University City and self-identifies as a slow birder, a person who connects with and gains insight into those birds in the backyard, neighborhood, or nearby park.

“The thesis of this book is that if you tie in the biological stories that go with the birds they will be much more rewarding to watch.” She hopes readers “might appreciate their actions and begin to understand the biological underpinnings of bird behavior.”

Besides encouraging readers to enjoy the biological magnificence of our sky neighbors, the author distills and presents research from ornithologists who have studied a single species for years. She profiles 16 “home birds,” including the blue jay and northern cardinal, and offers suggestions on how novices can use a streamlined version of the scientific method to study the birds they see.

Birds, she writes are “our closest connection to wildness.” “... [T]hese organisms connect us with here and there, with then and now as they chatter outside our windows or soar past our lives.”

Strassmann concludes each section about the history and research results of a particular species with suggestions of bird-focused activities designed to help the reader appreciate the splendor and special adaptations of the feathered wonders nearby. Every chapter also includes a detailed drawing of the bird being considered and information on the scientists who have discovered and studied them.

About the Author: Joan Strassmann is an award-winning teacher of animal behavior, first at Rice University and then at Washington University where she is Charles Rebstock professor of biology. She has written more than 200 scientific articles on behavior, ecology, and the evolution of social organisms. Strassmann is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, and other academic associations.

This 334-page book has end notes and a thorough index.

Strassmann will make a presentation on “Slow Birding” at the Washington Public Library next Thursday, January 12th at 6:30 PM. The event is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Washington Public Library and Neighborhood Reads.

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