What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World- Book Review

Young, J. (2012). What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Jon Young is a lifelong naturalists and the founder of the Wilderness Awareness School (www.wildernessawareness.org). This book is centered on what Young refers to in his school curriculum as the “sit-spot.” This is a strategic place outside that an individual selects to go sit at and tune-in to nature. With this book, Young emphasizes the importance of taking the time to be aware of what is going on around you as you are outside. He does this by using the American robin as an example. Young states:

I am a true believer because I have no choice. Too many times, I’ve seen a radical transformation in children and adults who simply take the time to tune in—not just show up, but really tune in—and learn a thing or two about what the robin already knows.

Young not only describes different bird calls and alarms, he also gives some helpful strategies for determining what all is going on in a particular area by listening to those calls and alarms. He weaves in lots of personal experiences and observations from years of paying attention in nature.

If this book has a weakness, it would be the overwhelming technical details of what Young refers to as the “twelve alarm shapes.” These shapes represent a bird response to a specific kind of threat. Although this chapter (7) may not hold the reader’s attention, it does make for a good reference section that the reader could come back to after spending time observing birds.

What I appreciate about Young’s writing is that with this book he brings out knowledge about nature that wildlife trackers, photographers, guides, and other naturalists have known for a long time. Being out in nature should first of all be fun and interesting to you. Then, with good observational skills and curiosity you can learn quite a bit. The encouraging part is that you can learn a lot even with little “textbook” knowledge about biology.


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