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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674

In his book, Wiener provides great detail on birds, especially finches, of the Galapagos Islands. His book is based on the scientist studies of Peter and Rosemary Grant. The Galapagos Islands serve as one of the richest areas of scientific exploration, as the islands host many diverse species of animals, insects, birds, plants, and sea life.

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The Grants, with a team of explorers, studied how important the shape and size of beaks are for the survival of birds:

The shape of a bird’s beak sets tight limits on what it can eat [...].

Each beak is a hand with a single permanent gesture. It is a general-purpose tool that can serve only a limited number or purposes. Wood-peckers have chisels. Egrets have spears. Darters have swords. Herons and bitterns have tongs. Hawks, falcons, and eagles have hooks. Curlews have pincers.

Wiener focuses on the beak of the finch, in particular:

[...] finches can’t put food in their mouths with their wings. They can’t use their claws either, any more than we can dine comfortably with our feet. They have to use their beaks. Beaks are to birds what hands are to us. They are the birds’ chief tools for handling, managing, and manipulating the things of this world.

Describing various birds in great detail, Wiener provides great insight into the diversity among birds, as seen in the following quote below:

There are about nine thousand species of birds alive in the world today, and the variety of their beaks helped confirm Paley’s belief in an inventive God.

The specialization of each beak per species is astounding, as one studies what each bird can or cannot do in its environment:

Flamingos’ beaks have deep troughs and fine filters, through which the birds can pump water and mud with their tongues. Kingfishers’ beaks have such stout inner braces and struts that a few species can dig tunnels in riverbanks by sailing headlong into the earth, over and over again, like flying jackhammers. Some finch beaks are like carpentry shops. They come equipped with ridges inside the upper mandible, which serve as a sort of built-in vise and help the finch hold a seed in place while sawing it open with the lower mandible.

This book provides tremendous details regarding the scientific steps taken by the Grants in order to obtain specific information about finches and their beaks:

The Grant team discovered that the ground finches were concentrating on about two dozen different species of seed. So the members of the team put each other these two dozen kinds of seeds between the points of a vernier...

(The entire section contains 674 words.)

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