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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

The Bird Watching Answer Book

article by Pat Leonard

In a year’s time, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gets tens of thousands of questions about birds. Why is a cardinal attacking my windows?  Will birds explode if they eat rice thrown after a wedding? How can I keep squirrels out of my bird feeders? Why don’t birds fall off branches as they sleep?

Drawing on these perennial puzzlers and many others she’s fielded over a lifetime of bird study, Cornell Lab science editor Laura Erickson has compiled answers to more than 200 common and not-so-common bird questions. The end product is The Bird Watching Answer Book, a pocket-sized reference that reads like a casual conversation with your friendly neighborhood “bird lady.”

Bird Watching Answer Book

That’s because, sprinkled liberally throughout the text, readers will find quirky asides and amusing stories that make for great “Hey, did you know?” conversation starters. For example, did you know Turkey Vultures have been used to detect gas pipeline leaks because of their great sense of smell? Or how about this: Feathers are made of a substance found in no other animal tissue except alligator claws. And it turns out four American presidents kept pet mockingbirds in the White House. (Jefferson named his bird “Dick.”)

“Whether people like birds or not, they notice them,” says Erickson. “My hope is that, with the book, people start noticing not just that birds are there, but that they’re really cool beings sharing this planet with us.”

The questions keep coming—so Erickson is already filing them away for a followup!

Learn More

  • The Bird Watching Answer Book is available through Amazon and is published by Storey Publishing
  • Check out "Twin Beaks," Laura Erickson's blog for birds, by birds
  • Watch this video showing how the book's illustrator created artwork for another Cornell Lab project


Illustrations by Pedro Fernandes