From the New York Times bestselling 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 most recent book, What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds (forthcoming from Penguin Press, June 2023), explores recent findings on the biology, behavior, and conservation of owls. 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 25 languages and was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2016 by The Wall Street Journal, a Best Science Book by National Public Radio's "Science Friday", and a Nature Book of the Year by the London Sunday Times. Her other books include Birds by the Shore: Observing the Natural Life of the Atlantic Coast (2019 reissue by Penguin Press of her first book, Notes from the Shore), 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.
“[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)