From the author of The Genius of Birds and The Bird Way, a brilliant scientific investigation into owls—the most elusive of birds—and why they exert such a hold on human imagination
For millennia, owls have captivated and intrigued us. Our fascination with these mysterious birds was first documented more than thirty thousand years ago in the Chauvet Cave paintings in southern France. With their forward gaze and quiet flight, owls are often a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and foresight. But what does an owl really know? And what do we really know about owls? Though our fascination goes back centuries, scientists have only recently begun to understand in deep detail the complex nature of these extraordinary birds. Some two hundred sixty species of owls exist today, and they reside on every continent except Antarctica, but they are far more difficult to find and study than other birds because they are cryptic, camouflaged, and mostly active in the dark of night.
Jennifer Ackerman illuminates the rich biology and natural history of these birds and reveals remarkable new scientific discoveries about their brains and behavior. She joins scientists in the field and explores how researchers are using modern technology and tools to learn how owls communicate, hunt, court, mate, raise their young, and move about from season to season. We now know that the hoots, squawks, and chitters of owls follow sophisticated and complex rules, allowing them to express not just their needs and desires but their individuality and identity. Owls duet. They migrate. They hoard their prey. Some live in underground burrows; some roost in large groups; some dine on black widows and scorpions.
Ackerman brings this research alive with her own personal field observations about owls and dives deep into why these birds beguile us. What an Owl Knows is an awe-inspiring exploration of owls across the globe and through human history, and a spellbinding account of their astonishing hunting skills, communication, and sensory prowess. By providing extraordinary new insights into the science of owls, What an Owl Knows pulls back the curtain on the nature of the world’s most enigmatic group of birds.
About the Author
Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science and nature for more than three decades. Her previous book, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, was a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. Her New York Times bestselling book, The Genius of Birds, has been translated into twenty-five languages and was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2016 by The Wall Street Journal, a Best Science Book by NPR’s Science Friday, and a Nature Book of the Year by The Sunday Times. Her other books include Birds by the Shore: Observing the Natural Life of the Atlantic Coast, Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body, and Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity. Ackerman’s articles and essays have appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and many other publications. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
“Ackerman is a warm and companionable guide, so enthusiastic about her subject that I suspect even the avian-indifferent will be charmed by her encounters with owls and the dedicated people who study them.” —The New York Times “A must-read for all bird lovers, Ackerman’s latest engaging work contains a feast of revelations about creatures that have fascinated us throughout human history. We learn that owlets begin making vocal sounds in the egg and that adult owls use sophisticated communication calls conveying their weight, sex, size and state of mind. Ackerman describes the strong maternal instincts owls display and outlines the environmental threats to these entrancing birds.” —The Guardian
“[Ackerman] offers an absorbing ear-tuft-to-tail appreciation of the raptor that Mary Oliver, a poet, called a ‘god of plunge and blood.’ Owls, it seems, know a lot. Ms. Ackerman draws on recent research to explain what and how.” —The Economist
“Ackerman is an excellent writer on the natural world, and in this wise and thoroughly researched book, her chapter on human-owl relations is especially fascinating.” —New Statesman
“A fascinating read on how scientists are beginning to better understand the lives and ecology of these secretive and rarely visible birds.” —Science
“An enchanting guide.” —People
“‘What is it about owls that so enthralls us?’ . . . [Ackerman] explores this question with her trademark thoroughness and care, leading readers on an in-depth tour through the extraordinary world of owls . . . Edifying and immersive.” —Bookpage (starred review)
“[A] masterful survey . . . There’s fascinating trivia on every page, making for a revelatory glimpse into the lives of the ‘enigmatic’ raptors. Bird lovers will be enthralled.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Fascinating food for thought for owl seekers and sure to please any lover of immersive treks into the lives of birds.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Always eloquent and engaging, science writer Ackerman turns her attention to owls, those mysterious, nocturnal birds that everyone can recognize but few really know . . . Ackerman's latest vivid and compelling narrative is enlivened by her own passion for owls and her excitement over discoveries in the wild that show that, for humans, owls continue to be full of surprises . . . Captivating.” —Booklist (starred review)
"Ackerman’s account brings a sense of enchantment and wonder to this intriguing, complex animal, one that exerts an especially powerful pull on our psyche and culture.” —Australian Financial Review