The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield by Laurence Sheehan, William Stites, Carol Sama Sheehan and Katheryn George Precourt. First published 2011. As reviewed and pictured: hardcover, 240 pages.
If birds are “God’s nervous system,” as someone once observed, bird watchers are their EKG, electrified by each new discovery. (excerpt from Prologue)
People express their love of birds in many ways. Birders observe them in the field, or attract them to their yards. Scientists study them. Designers and artists use beautiful bird forms in their work. And the authors of The Birding Life have shared the world of different bird lovers through short stories and beautiful photographs.
In the prologue, the author outs himself as a non-birder, not that there’s anything wrong with that. He joins a field trip at the Prairies and Potholes Birding Festival and describes both birder and bird behavior with a bemused but respectful voice (I was delighted to read about blogger friends Lynne and Wren experiencing the magic of the festival).
The rest of the book is divided into three parts: Birders in Birdland, Bird Houses, and At Home with Birds. Each section is broken into chapters that describe a particular person or family or place and their connection with birds. Rather than generalizing the different ways people enjoy birds, each chapter deals intimately with its subject, which are wide-ranging and include “wildlife ranchers” Jan and Jack Cato in Texas Hill Country, a young birder’s family and impressive ornithological library in Manhattan, a giant-bird-nest-artist in the Hamptons, and naturalist-fashionista-designer sisters in New York.
The individual stories are accompanied by beautiful color photographs, many full-page. Images show beautiful birds in natural habitat, or birders and their paraphernalia, or stylish interiors designed with an avian theme.
The Birding Life is an unusual mix of field trip reports, birder observation from an outsider’s point of view, and birds in art and design, all accompanied by beautiful photographs. The book is coffee-table sized, and is worth more than just a thumb-through. The stories are short, just a few pages each, which makes it ideal for picking up and reading in short bursts – perfect for the birder’s coffee table – or birding library.
I give The Birding Life 4.5 Goldfinches out of 5.
Disclosure: This is my own original, honest review of The Birding Life, a copy of which was provided to me free of charge by the publisher.