Science Book a Day Interviews Tony Angell and John Marzluff


Special thanks to Tony Angell and John Marzluff for answering 5 questions about their recently featured book – Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans

Author, illustrator and sculptor, Angell has won numerous writing and artistic awards for his work on behalf of nature including the prestigious Master Artist Award of the Leigh Yawkey Art Museum. His sculptural forms celebrating nature are to be found in public and private collections throughout the country. Tony has worked actively as a board member of Washington’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy, is an elected Fellow of the National Sculpture Society, and retired in 2002 as Director of Environmental Education for the state of Washington after 30 years. – From Tony’s Homepage

John Marzluff, is Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. The author of four books and over one hundred scientific papers on various aspects of bird behavior, he is the recipient of the A. Brazier Howell, Board of Directors, and H.R. Painton awards from the Cooper Ornithological Society. – Simon & Schuster Profile

Tony’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for Gifts of the Crow?

TA: It was clear to both John and myself after co writing In the Company of Crows and Ravens, that there was much more to investigate and share on this family of birds — particularly the cerebral capacity of the species. The birds’ extraordinary capacity to solve problems and live in association with humankind, (actually a benefit for many of their kin] was an open invitation to explore more both by observation and scientific measure. Needless to say we were not disappointed in what we discovered and of course lifting one edge of the curtain just reveals all the more that’s on stage and open to further investigation and depiction.

#2 – From your background as an artist, how did you get involved with the book?

TA: Since the 1970s I have done a number of books related to nature. In fact, I did a book entitled: Ravens, Crows, Magpies and Jays in 1978, largely based on my already intense interest in these birds. John and I would later collaborate on his book focusing on the Pinyon Jay (my illustrations] and then we put our heads together to focus on our mutual interest in corvids to produce In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Yale U. Press].

While I have always been intrigued with the these species as subjects for drawing and sculpture, my first book pulled me into the consideration of their behavior, distribution and cultural influences and it was the combination of both the illustrative focus and the narrative treatment of the aforementioned that I brought to our collaboration.

#3 – How do you go about your research when you portray a bird?

TA: There is no substitution for knowing the subject in nature and having many of these birds about me, both wild and as subject for rehab, I really got to know more of their subtle beauty and behavioral postures. Getting close to the living subject pulls both the scientist and artist in to try and figure out what’s going on in the lives of the birds. The challenge of depicting behavior in line and form has always been a motivating factor in my work.

Also, having the bird in the hand (when it was legal] was of great assistance in portraying accurately what the subject is all about. In my lifetime I’ve probably skinned over 1OO corvid road kills from magpies and Steller’s jays, to ravens and grey jays, etc., etc. There’s a lot of memory to call up and apply from what you learn through touching your subjects.

I think too, that a good illustration should always seek to not just compliment the narrative, but convey information that words sometimes fall short in doing.

#4 – When you illustrated this book, how important was it to portray the characteristics of the crow?

TA: The information above relates to this question, but there are subtle distinctions between species of crows that for our first crow book was a challenge to portray. Size and contours of beak and body are important characteristics. The habitat they are found in as surrounding material and even their social configurations. A crow isn’t just a crow every time you see a moderately large black bird and at a distance might be hard to distinguish from a big grackle. We have at least four species that occur in the USA (if you include the Hawaiian Crow] and they are all different while sharing the general corvid disposition and physical equipment.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

TA: I have just finished another book with Yale University Press which should be on book shelves in April of 2015. It’s entitled: The House of Owls and is largely based on my first hand experience with most of America’s nineteen species of owls many of which lived for a time within my house — hence the title of the book. The heart of the narrative is a section describing the nearly quarter century that western screech owls occupied and raised young in the nesting box outside my bedroom window. There are close to 100 drawings of the birds and their behavior over this period that I include in the book.

Now, I’m immersed in finishing up and starting a number of new sculptral pieces that will relate to the subject of owls and be part of a show of my work at my gallery in Seattle (Foster/White] in April of next year when the book comes out.

JM: I have a book just coming out with Yale “Welcome to Subirdia” which details how birds respond to urbanization.

[Image Credit: ]
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