Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey, by Jonathan Meiburg (author, narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, ISBN 9780593349014, March 2021

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin encountered a bird in the Falklands, a falcon, but oddly crow-like. It was unwary of people, extremely curious, and prone to rather aggressively stealing anything that caught its interest, whether potential food, or not. And the bird's view of what's "potential food" was quite broad. Darwin was puzzled by this crow-like falcon that existed nowhere but in a fairly narrow range of South America, but it was one of many mysteries he noted on his voyage, and this wasn't one he returned to.

Jonathan Meiburg did return to the mystery, and gives us a fascinating account of, not just the striated caracara, commonly called the "Johnny Rook" by the people in its territory, but of its near relatives. There are other species of caracara over mostly southern South America, including one that feasts on wasps' nests with seeming impunity.

The striated caracara, or Johnny Rook, itself is a a wily, curious, opportunistic bird who will investigate the food possibilities of literally anything, try to strip boots down into small, edible bits, raid nests of larger birds of prey, scavenge dead animals, attack live sheep. It's because of its willingness to attack and injure, especially go after existing injuries on sheep, that the Falklands government put a bounty on them, and they were almost hunted to extinction before a naturalist got the bounty lifted and a conservation plan implemented. Now, however, the Johnny Rooks do well only on a few islands that aren't suitable for sheep farming.

Meiburg gives us the history and the puzzles of the striated caracara, but also fascinating accounts of other caracara species, and glimpses of caracara species that are barely known, documented to exist but rarely photographed and never really studied. It's a fascinating look at a piece of avian history and evolution most of us will never observe directly, and this are truly fascinating birds.


I bought this audiobook.

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