The Birding Life

The Birding Life

Jerry Goodbody
Published: 12/16/2011

Worried about making it through the long, dark days of winter until spring migration? Or maybe just looking to round out your bird and birding library? In either case, you’d be wise to check out The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield, by Laurence Sheehan, Carol Sama Sheehan, and Kathryn George Precourt. This is no substitute for your field guides; rather it’s kind of an après-birding book that, with lovely writing and literally hundreds of beautiful photos by William Stites, will help you understand and appreciate bird culture in dozens of ways, some of which you probably never thought of.

The Birding Life is divided into three parts, the first of which, “Birders in Birdland,” introduces readers to the trailblazers, Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon, whose art introduced America to the wonder of birds. You will also meet some of their notable successors, including bird guide pioneer Roger Tory Peterson and his contemporary heirs, Kenn Kaufman and David Allen Sibley.

Parts two and three, “Bird Houses” and “At Home With Birds,” explore the incredible and wide-ranging world of bird-inspired art and design. There is section on the exuberantly colorful paintings of Charley Harper (and a look at designer Todd Oldham’s considerable collection of Harper silkscreen prints). There’s a chapter on former Audubon board chair Donal O’Brien Jr.’s world-class decoy collection. There’s an over-the-top bird’s-nest tree house from Roderick Romero. And there is a mind-boggling series of bird cushions, bird ceramics, bird sculpture, bird basketry, bird houses, bird furniture, and any other bird-related artform you can think of—all captured in Stites’s superb photographs.

The book gets you out of the house, too, to some of birding’s most important and interesting places, including the John James Audubon Center in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania; the bird collection at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History; Audubon’s Hog Island, off the coast of Maine, where you meet “Puffin Man” Steve Kress, whose pioneering techniques have been the salvation of Atlantic puffins; and Ohio’s Magee Marsh, the so-called “Warbler Capital of the World.” My favorite visit might be to artist James Prosek’s home, where he’s reproduced Roger Tory Peterson’s famous “Roadside Silhouettes” on one of his walls.

To order The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 240 pages, $50), go to http://thebirdinglife.com.