Tag Archives: birds

Avian Matters: Birding

This is the last post in the Avian Matters series – hurrah, for me! As for you, dear readers? Whatever will you have to look forward to now? Don’t you worry; you can always revisit the previous posts in the series, as well as take a look at the entire Dive Into Reading series I posted earlier if you missed that before.

Now if everything above the cut kind of looks and sounds a bit more like we’re talking around birding rather than introducing you to it… you’re absolutely right! That’s exactly what’s going on. It appears throughout the memoirs below that birding is not just an activity you can separate from the rest of your life like perhaps other hobbies (though arguably, you can’t really separate other hobbies from the rest of your life either, seeing as they inform your life, still), and helps to make sense of other events by putting them into perspective. I suspect it has something to do with the patience that birding inspires, as well as the sense of wonder once your eyes have been opened to what is all around you (such as the many different types of sparrow – yes, there is more than just one species of sparrow). I think Crow Planet, despite all my quibbles about it, would go wonderfully with this post, as Haupt does exhort you to become an urban naturalist and pay attention to what is around you even as you go about the concrete jungle.

Below the cut, you’ll find introductions to birding as well as a couple of field guides that tell you about birds in Ontario.

Lynn ThomsonBirding with Yeats caught me way off guard, in part because I was expecting it to be about a different Yeats and possibly birding in his poetry or in his life, but also because of how intimate the entire piece of writing is. It’s almost as though Thomson is writing a diary and trying to chronicle the events before she forgets: these chapters seem to parallel somewhat Yeats’ lists.

Lynn Thomson walks us, the reader, through her experiences with her son, Yeats, from when he was a child to when he has grown older and is looking to become more independent of her. Birding with Yeats is beautifully written reflection on both Thomson’s relationship with her son as well as their unique relationship with birds and with nature. The very activity of birding brings the two together in comfortable silence and forges a bond between them in the common love of birds and their appreciation of the awe that they inspire, while at the same time giving each of them strength throughout the trials that they encounter. While at times I’m tempted to think Thomson’s chronicling of her close relationship with her son might be a rather selective telling of the story, it is certainly very beautiful and touching.

The pace is unhurried and gentle, where even the most catastrophic of events doesn’t really make you nervous in the least because it’s as though Thomson is writing not entirely from her own perspective, which is probably why I feel that something is missing from the memoir, but it’s definitely a beautiful work that repeatedly brings us back into nature. I’m a bit disappointed that there weren’t more descriptions of the actual birding excursions themselves, and that the focus was more on the relationship between mother and son, but that’s exactly what Birding with Yeats purports to show, so it’s a bit unfair of me to say so. I did find that as it went on, the writing felt more and more like a list of things that had happened rather than an introspective reflection on events past, though. On the other hand, extra points for being local!

(It’s a bit of an adventure reading through this at times because there are short references to both Yeats and Keats, and I couldn’t switch between the two different ways of pronouncing “-eats” quickly enough before the next Yeats came up – and this one being Thomson’s son, not the celebrated poet, though Thomson notes he’s a poet in his own right.)


Tim DeeA Year on the Wing by Tim Dee covers much more than just the one year, as Dee’s retelling of his impressions of and experiences with birds month-by-month are informed by his experiences with them throughout his entire life, both personal experiences such as his many years of working with guillemots, as well as literary experiences. Beautifully written in a lyrical prose, the year passes by in a flurry of wings rather than a straightforward path from A to B. Think of a murmuration of starlings, in the way the shape of the flock changes from second to second* – that’s the sort of prose you’ll find here with Dee.

Another pure celebration of birds in all their idiosyncratic wonder, A Year on the Wing should surely convert you into a bird lover! (To be honest, I did find it a touch too flowery – though not poorly written by any means – so I can’t recommend it for everyone, but if you do enjoy reading lyrical prose, this should make your next-reads list.)

*If you want to know more about that, take a look at this Quanta magazine article.


Kyo MaclearBirds Art Life by Kyo Maclear won’t teach you how to birdwatch, but it’s certainly an interesting recounting of how Maclear herself learned to fall in love with birds. That’s not really it, though – it’s more Maclear’s recollection of getting back on her feet after the death of her father, and the ways in which birdwatching featured into that with the help of a young fellow who allowed her to accompany him for a year as he went around his own birdwatching adventures. The two never really leave for the spectacular or exotic, preferring instead to seek beauty in what is plentiful, or perhaps an unexpected visitor, closer to home. I think this touches also a bit on the concept of hygge, which I’ve posted about before, but there’s something of becoming able to recognize the beauty in the small and ordinary that surround us, to recognize that they are extraordinary in their own right. (I think Sarah McLachlan gets it on the dot with Ordinary Miracle, which you can find on either of these 2 CDs we have in our collection: With Glowing Hearts & Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff vol. 2).

And if you’re a bit more into birdkeeping rather than birdwatching, here’s a great review on The King of the Birds, a picture book about Flannery O’Connor and her peacocks! We don’t own the book, but as always, ILLO is an option that is available to you.

Now we’re ready to move onto introductions to birding below, as well as a couple of field guides so you’ll be able to positively identify whatever flies your way (well… maybe not whatever flies your way, but at least some of them)! So if you’ve been wondering what that bird of prey making the rounds over your head is, or perhaps wondering what kind of seagull it is that we even have here, because we just call them seagulls, really, then look no further – I (probably) have the book for you!

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Avian Matters: Corvidae

Willow DawsonHave I mentioned I really like corvids?* They’re such beautiful birds, and they seem to have a pretty bad reputation all around that I’m not sure they deserve. Sure, they can be a bit scary, especially when you’re encountering a murder of crows, since they can grow quite large individually and it seems all the more as a group, and they’re scavengers so sometimes you might see one hunkering down over roadkill and tearing it to pieces, but they’re also such smart birds! (Or perhaps that makes them even more terrifying?)

I’m going to start off with The Wolf-Birds, because this book truly shines in illustrating how wolves and ravens (can) form a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial for both species, using text and illustration that likewise work together to tell the story. It’s a delightful picture book with beautiful illustrations and a truly lovely pace: the story ebbs and flows as the hunt continues for both the wolves and the ravens, showing how each animal plays its part in the natural progression of things. Willow Dawson completes the story with a page at the end with information about ravens and why they are also called wolf-birds, detailing the symbiotic relationship between wolves and ravens, where both groups benefit from the interaction, contrasted with parasitic situations where ravens simply steal from the wolves without giving back.

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Avian Matters: Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?

Andrew LawlerAlright. So which came first? The chicken or the egg? You’ll be able to find the answer to that in here, but this little video in an article from Brain Pickings does a good job, too.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? is, as the cover says outright, the “Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization”. I was pretty surprised even just reading the introduction: the chicken is the most widespread bird globally, which lives in every nook and cranny of the world except for one continent (Antarctica, though empire penguin chicks have caught diseases that come from chickens still) and one state (Vatican City). Once I consider it, it makes sense, but given how widespread they are, shouldn’t we see live chickens running amok a bit more often than we currently do?

The noticeable absence of the (live) bird that most populates the world is a bit concerning, and this is the case just about everywhere unless you happen to work as a butcher or in the poultry industry, and while sermonizing is not what Lawler does in this book (nor is it my intention here!), he does touch upon how little we actually get to see, and therefore think about, the chicken as a bird as opposed to as meat – which in turn means that we also don’t think too hard on how the development of the chicken for larger breasts and more meat for less feed has led to the possibility of chickens that are in perpetual pain throughout their short lives because their skeletal structures are incapable of keeping up with the rapid growth of their bodies. Lawler even describes an episode where roosters took out their frustrations on hens, sometimes killing them, either because their enlarged breasts prevented mating, or because they were unaware of the courting dance. It’s not the first creature we think of when we say this, but perhaps “short, nasty and brutish” should describe the lives of chickens instead – though in truth it’s due to the short, nasty and brutish lives of people!

Anyway. Lawler does a pretty stellar job taking you from place to place as you follow the chicken on its journey from becoming domesticated to becoming found worldwide as he moves from continent to continent and from time period to time period. The irony here is that even as the chicken is becoming ever more widespread and consumed, the Red Jungle Fowl is ever more threatened by pollution of their gene pool due to matings with domesticated chickens, to the point that even though Red Jungle Fowl still exist, there are precious few that have purely wild genes.

A Chicken Followed Me Home! is another chicken-focused book, and this one would be great for children, or even just before tackling a full book about the chicken and how the unlikely candidate that is its ancestor (the Red Jungle Fowl) managed to become as widespread as it did. And now, because we know how the chicken made its way around the world and invaded our lives across the globe, let’s explore a couple of ways to enjoy all that it offers us!

Maybe you think cookbooks shouldn’t be making their way into a series about birds, a series that is a celebration of birds? Well where else should I be exploring cookbooks that teach you how to cook chicken, duck, and other birds, but in a series about avian matters?* Continue reading