Human infants require more care than they should, if we form our expectations based on closely related species (apes, and more generally, Old World simian primates). It has been said that humans are born three months early. This is not accurate. It was thought that our body size predicted a 12, instead of 9 month gestation, and some suggested that Neanderthals would have had such, but this research conclusion has been set aside based on new analysis. But it is still true that developmentally, human children do not reach a stage of development that allows some degree of self care for a very long time compared to apes. The actual sequence of development is not directly comparable: It is not the case that after a certain amount of time humans reach a specific stage reached earlier in the lifecycle by Chimpanzees, as the differences are more complicated than that. For the present purposes, we can characterize the human condition for early development like this: Human babies are more helpless in more ways and for longer than comparable ape babies.
Continue reading Is Childhood The Most Important Human Adaptation?
This is a summary of several of the better books I’ve had the opportunity to review here, organized in general categories. This is written from a North American perspective since most of my readers are North American (though many of you live to the west of the “Eastern Region” … but you probably know that). So, when not specified, a book with a regional focus is likely to be for that area, and the “Outside the US” section is labeled thusly.
Everybody needs a basic field guide. If you need more than one field guide because you are a family of birders, or because you like to keep one in the car and one by the feeder, than make your second (and third?) guides different from your first, because there will be plenty of times you will want to look something up in more than one place. A field guide is a good starting point, but the “How to be a birder” section includes books that you will be very glad you read once you read them, and if you are going to pick one “how to” book for yourself or as a gift, make it the Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding. If you know a young person getting interested in birding, the National Geographic Birding Essentials is essential, and if they are in the Eastern US, the Young Birder’s Guide is perfect.
I’ve not covered bird song here, other than the one, rather spectacular iBook.
Field and Identification Guides
- Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides) and related guides by Peterson (depending on your area) is still, in my opinion, the number one essential guide.
- The Kaufman Field Guide and the Smithsonian Field Guides are excellent second books, following the rule that if you are a birding family and don’t share well, get multiple guides but make them all different from one another.
- The Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds is too big to be a field pocketbook but too good, in the way the birds are presented, to not be one of your key books for birding in the region.
- Birds of North America and Greenland is a new guide to supplement the usual guides, covering the western edge of North America and Greenland in more detail than the usual. Maritime and New England birders need this one.
How to be a birder
- National Geographic’s Birding Essentials is for the new birder, covering how birding works, how to use bird guides, etc.
- The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds in Eastern North America is a field guide with help on how to go birding for kids about middle school age.
- How to Be a Better Birder is a more advanced guide but quite accessible to the noobie.
- The Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding … if you don’t have this book you’re doin’ it rong.
- Hawks at a distance is a unique approach to bird identification using long distance photos and a “whole bird” approach.
- Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America falls between the categorial category (a particular type of bird is covered) and academic books.
Regional Bird Guides Outside the US
- South Africa: Birds of Southern Africa is a classic now out in a new edition. Highly recommended.
- South Africa: I discuss two other Southern Africa guides here.
- Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives
- Birds of Central Asia
- Cotingas and Manakins covers a major South and Central American class of birds, is a very new book and is rather spectacular.
- Antarctic Wildlife: A visitor’s Guide is not just birds, but it includes the birds you’d be likely to see on an organized tour of the Southern Continent.
- Birds of the West Indies
- Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire
- The Birds of New Jersey: Status and Distribution
Academic or Topically General Books About Birds
- The Birder’s Handbook is not new but it is fantastic, all about bird ecology and behavioral biology and stuff.
- The Atlas of Birds addresses diversity, behavior, and conservation of birds world wide.
- Bird Migration and Global Change
- How birds migrate
- Three academic books on bird migration
- Avian Architecture: How birds design, engineer, and build is a spectacular overview of bird nesting and related behaviors.
- Living Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds is a high priced academic book that includes a series of scientific studies of bird evolution from Dinosaurs to more recent times.
Bird Song (and more)
- Music of the Birds Volume 1 is an experimental book, in iAuthored iBook format, focusing on a handful of selected species in Eastern North America.
Also, don’t forget to read ALL of my posts at 10,000 birds! There’s some other good posts there too.
Yesterday I wrote about Chris Stringer’s modified version of human evolution. Today, let’s have a look at Ian Tattersall’s new book, Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins (Macsci). Tatersall’s boo, like Sringer’s, is a good overview of the newer evidence in the constantly changing field, but he goes back earlier and provides a much broader context for human evolution. His main thesis is that the features that made modern humans unique have two main characteristics: 1) they were sufficient and causal in the process of making that one species “master of the planet” and 2) the transition to fully modern form, with respect to those features, is relatively late. Tattersall argues for a late and rather sudden development of symbolic abilities and language (I disagree with this) and seems to agree with Klein in something like a “single gene” theory describing this transition as sudden and dramatic. So, I basically disagree with his thesis, but if you want a good source to find out about the “symbolic explosion” version of modern humans, this is accessible and the documentation is pretty thorough.