Jun 30, 2014

The Herring Gull's World

Niko Tinbergen

This is one of those scientific books written by a naturalist that I remember loving vividly, although I haven't been able to find a copy to read again. It's about a study done on coastal seagulls. Similar to other books of its type, it describes how the scientists approached the animals, using care to get close enough to observe and photograph the wild birds without frightening them away or altering their behavior. Details what they learned about how the gulls live: finding food, courtship, raising their chicks and so on. I remember an experiment where they fashioned a fake bird's head with a red dot on the bill, and presented it to newly-hatched chicks to see if they would instinctively beg for food by pecking the spot- or something like that. Not sure why that incident stood out to me. Like the best of animal behavior studies, the book is written in a conversational narrative fashion. It details not only the animals' behavior in both anecdotal and scientific fashion (those two might sound conflicting, but I remember they dovetailed nicely here), but also muses on the nature of the animal mind, the naturalists' methods and their own experiences while conducting the study. I do want to find this book again, and add it to my permanent shelf. It is strongly paired with A Beast the Color of Winter in my mind; probably because I read them during the same period in my life and they are of similar quality (although the animal subjects could not be more different!).

There's an entire article about the red-spot aspect of the study here. I guess there's a reason that part of the book stood out to me! Also an interesting tidbit here from a current worker in the field who reflects on Tinbergen's words.

Rating: 4/5    255 pages, 1953

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