Some Native American traditions teach that it is only through a profound experience in your life that you discover your true name. Not long after taking up bird watching, I discovered mine: Stumbles Through the Forest Frightening the Wildlife. No matter what I did, the minute I stepped out of the car and onto the trail, it seemed that every bird, mammal, and likely even any nearby fish instantly became aware of my presence and hurried for cover.

Over the years and as the result of paying diligent attention to how my activities affected the birds that I had ventured out to see in the first place, I gradually seemed to become less of a serious threat and more of just a noisy nuisance to the creatures I encountered during my outings. Had I only been able to read Jon Young’s recently published book What the Robin Knows; How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World, I could have saved myself, not to mention the countless animals I scarred half out of their wits, a considerable amount of trouble.

Mr. Young, a life-long naturalist, bird watcher, and most importantly in regard to this book, tracker trained in both Native American and African tracking traditions, gently guides his readers into the world of animal communication, particularly what he refers to as Deep Bird Language, with a mixture of down-to-earth examples and easy-going humor. Employing a combination of straight-forward explanations of different bird behaviors and entertaining (as well as poignant) first-hand stories of his experiences with them, he leads the reader into a deeper and more expansive understanding of just how much communication is occurring all around us but of which we are largely ignorant.

Focusing upon how much one can learn by sitting still and learning to recognize the basic communication and behavior patterns of the local birds, Mr. Young makes very clear and easy to understand all the different things one can learn from them. Is there a fox or a weasel nearby? From what direction is a Cooper’s Hawk approaching? How close is one sitting to a well-concealed nest?

Including both a helpful appendix that outlines a course of study based upon the main content of the book, as well directions to online audio files containing examples of dozens of different bird vocalizations referenced in it, What the Robin Knows is not a book you’ll want to read just once; it merits repeated reading and practice of its recommended techniques. The potential discoveries to which these may lead one, not just about birds but about the natural world as a whole, are exponentially more than worth the time and effort.

Book Title: What the Robin Knows; How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World

Author: Jon Young

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Format: Clothbound

ISBN: 9780547451251

Published: May 8, 2012

This review was originally published in the July/August 2012 issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest.

In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.