Barbara J. King

Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

Recently, she has taken up writing about animal emotion and cognition more broadly, including in bison, farm animals, elephants and domestic pets, as well as primates.

King's most recent book is How Animals Grieve (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Her article "When Animals Mourn" in the July 2013 Scientific American has been chosen for inclusion in the 2014 anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing. King reviews non-fiction for the Times Literary Supplement (London) and is at work on a new book about the choices we make in eating other animals. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in 2002.

Birdsong is music to human ears.

It has inspired famous composers. For the rest of us, it may uplift the spirit and improve attention or simply be a source of delight, fun and learning.

But have you ever wondered what birds themselves hear when they sing?

On this day of giving thanks, I've put together a list of animal-related things for which I'm grateful. Here they are in no particular order:

10. This half-minute duck-chases-dog video. It brings a smile every time I watch. Don't miss the moment when the chase reverses direction!

When I give public talks about animal intelligence and emotion around the U.S., I'm struck by one thing: a big audience response to the behavior of octopuses.

A friend posted a query on Facebook: "Please name some movies/TV shows that make you feel more optimistic/positive about life."

Immediate resonance! I've never been one for dark, broody and violent visual arts. During my husband's avid watching of TV shows like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, I flee the room.

Last month, Australian surfer Jade Fitzpatrick sustained three bite wounds to his thigh from a great white shark as he waited for a wave on his surfboard off the north coast of New South Wales.

As the Guardian newspaper reported, he was helped out of the water by a friend, received medical treatment and planned to surf again in the same waters within 10 days.

When you're trapped in an airport, relax and have some fun.

That's one possible takeaway from this small bird filmed earlier this year, riding the handrails of an airport's moving walkway.

The bird swoops in the air, lands on the handrail and repeats the whole sequence. Doesn't that look playful? Play isn't an outlandish explanation, in fact, because animal-behavior scientists agree that different species of birds do play in a variety of ways.

Some 56 years after Jane Goodall began long-term research on wild chimpanzees at Gombe, Tanzania, primatologists are still uncovering fascinating new facts about these closest living relatives of ours.

What lurks beneath?

Beneath the water, we find luminescent vampire squid and weighty blue whales. We find super-heated hydrothermal chimneys, sonar-pinging submarines and scientists who roam the watery terrain in submersibles.

Beneath the ground, we find a realm of geysers, volcanoes and tectonic plates. Here also dwell giant earthworms, warthogs and deep roots of wild fig and camel thorn trees. In the subsurface world, humans mine and tunnel and excavate to unleash bones and fossils.

Are free-ranging cats pint-size murderers who need to be removed from the landscape because they critically decrease bird and small-mammal populations?

Or is the estimation of free-ranging cats' impact on birds exaggerated, so that we'd do better to rein in the anti-cat hype and to focus on our own actions toward wildlife?

Are these the only two possible positions? Or is this dichotomy itself a kind of hype?

Last week, The New York Times described "a new category of Digital Detox trips in which participants pledge, in writing, to swear off all digital devices including cellphones and cameras" for 8 to 10 days of travel.

If you sign up, you get a notebook to record memories. Travel leaders will even send email updates to your family, if you'd like.

Sounds virtuous, doesn't it? Shouldn't we all be disconnecting more, especially on vacation?

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