In 1833, a young Charles Darwin was astonished by a strange animal he met in the Falkland Islands: a set of handsome, social, and oddly crow-like falcons that were "tame and inquisitive", "quarrelsome and passionate", and so insatiably curious that they stole hats, compasses, and other valuables from the crew of the Beagle. Darwin met many unusual creatures in his five-year voyage, but no others showed an interest in studying him, and he wondered why these birds were confined to remote islands at the tip of South America, sensing a larger story.
But he set this mystery aside, and never returned to it; and almost two hundred years later, Meiburg picks up where Darwin left off. These birds – now called striated caracaras – still exist, though they're very rare; and A Most Remarkable Creature reveals the wild and fascinating story of their history, origins, and possible futures in a series of travels throughout South America, from the fog-bound coasts of Tierra del Fuego to the tropical forests of Guyana. Along the way, Meiburg draws us into the life and work of William Henry Hudson, the Victorian naturalist who championed caracaras as an unsung wonder of the natural world; and takes us to falconry parks in the English countryside, where captive birds perform incredible feats of memory and problem-solving.
A Most Remarkable Creature is a hybrid of science writing, travelogue, and biography, as generous and accessible as it is sophisticated, and much more than a book about birds: it's a journey to uncover moments of first contact between humans and animals, science and religion, and the mismatched continents of what Europeans mistakenly called the New World.
Jonathan Meiburg is a writer, ornithologist, and adventurer who's best known as the singer of the band Shearwater. His pieces on science, nature, and music have appeared in The Believer, Talkhouse, and The Appendix. His unique career between the sciences and the arts makes him an ideal guide for a journey that takes in the deep history and landscapes of an entire continent, from the lush forests of Guyana to the windswept Falkland Islands. He lives in central Texas.