Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy World Penguin Day

April 25, 2014

If you can’t celebrate World Penguin Day with a visit to Antarctica, a satisfying alternative is reading first hand accounts of Adelie colonies by an adventurous young ornithologist. Just out of college, Noah Stryker braved the world’s coldest, windiest continent for 3 months in 2009 to get to know some of the world’s most intriguing birds. Also a photographer, artist, and BirdBoy columnist for WildBird Magazine, Strycker impressed an editor at Oregon State University so much that she asked him to write a book, too. Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica deftly explores the intimate lives of penguins and the interns set out on the ice to study them. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review and extolled, “At the age of 24, Strycker has already studied birds on six continents and his evocative writing reveals enough wit, meticulous description, and passion to satisfy any nature writing enthusiast (particularly young ones.)”
Strycker’s passion for penguins remains unabashed, and the birds feature prominently in his new book as well. The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human is a look at bird behavior as peripatetic as Strycker’s bird-chasing lifestyle. Topics range from social dominance hierarchies in barnyard fowl to the olfactory capabilities of vultures. Penguins knew the author well enough to untie his shoelaces, one indicator of the affable personality that Strycker says helps explain their star appeal. Even after being wrestled into submission so that adhesive tags could be applied to their backs, says Strycker, “They maintained their good-natured curiosity toward me despite my interference.” Yet, in examining their more complex behaviors, Strycker ponders seemingly incongruous fears. Why, for example, would birds that can chase fish in dark ocean waters avoid sunless winter habitats, even when teaming with prey? Following Strycker’s reasoning as he teases out what terrors may lurk in penguin imaginations is one of the chief pleasures of the book. To read my full review of The Thing with Feathers, please visit the Washington Independent Review of Books.