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Raising an orphaned nestling, as Charlie Gilmour describes to such powerful effect in Featherhood, or tending to an injured wild bird or devoting one’s self to the close study of birds is to experience an exhalation of discovery of the cross-species mutuality of intelligence and emotion. Each of these involving and enlightening books blends personal storytelling with science to chronicle transformative avian immersions.
Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood. By Terry Masear. 2015. Mariner, $16.99 (9780544705371).
Hummingbird rescuer Masear of Los Angeles recounts her experiences nursing more than 100 injured, orphaned, or otherwise distressed hummingbirds, and getting to know a phenomenal variety of personalities among these tiny and exquisite winged marvels.
H Is for Hawk. By Helen Macdonald. 2015. Grove, $26 (9780802123411).
Macdonald’s celebrated memoir chronicling her long fascination with birds of prey, deep grief over her father’s death, and intricate bond with a young goshawk she names Mabel and devotes herself to training deeply inspired Charlie Gilmour.
The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. By J. Drew Lanham. 2016. Milkweed, $16 (9781571313508).
Wildlife biologist, professor, and ornithologist Lanham reveals in this many-faceted, award-winning work of nature writing , especially in the chapter titled “Birding While Black,” how his avian passion in his “home place,” South Carolina, made him a “rare bird” and potentially an endangered one.
Mozart’s Starling. By Lyanda Lynn Haupt. 2017. Little, Brown, $16.99 (9780316370905).
Curious about how Mozart was influenced by the music of his pet starling, naturalist Haupt lived with a starling herself, making for a charming mix of science, biography, and memoir.
Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound. By David Rothenberg. 2019. Univ. of Chicago, $26 (9780226467184).
Birdsong also fascinates musician, philosophy professor, and writer Rothenberg, who studied the songs of the migrating nightingales that congregate each spring in a busy park in Berlin.
One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives. By Bernd Heinrich. 2016. 224p. Houghton, $28 (9780544387638).
Biologist and prolific nature writer Heinrich focuses here on the lives of the birds living near his cabin in the Maine woods, portraying individual crows, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees via daily observations rooted in a wealth of avian knowledge.
Penguin the Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family. By Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive. 2017. Atria, $22 (9781501160356).
At a loss after a terrible fall his wife left his wife paralyzed, Australian photographer Bloom and their three sons received help in the form of an injured fledgling magpie they rescued and called Penguin; ultimately bird and woman journeyed toward healing and rehabilitation together.
The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal about Being Human. By Noah Strycker. 2014. Riverhead, $18 (9781594633416).
Strycker combines ornithological science with snippets of history and his own vast experience in the field to hatch a thoroughly entertaining examination of bird behavior and how it parallels so many aspects of our lives.
What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing, and Why. By David Allen Sibley. 2020. Knopf, $35 (9780307957894).
Many books describe bird behavior as observed by humans, but here Sibley, of Sibley Guides to Birds fame, examines avian behavior from the bird’s point of view, focusing on frequent backyard visitors (nuthatches, blue jays, and chickadees) as well as owls, roadrunners, and ducks in glorious illustrations and engaging field notes.
Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. By Melissa Hart. 2014. Globe Pequot/Lyons, $25.95 (9780762796809).
New to Los Angeles, Hart met a photographer who volunteered at a local raptor center, where they ended up getting married, and where her work with injured and abandoned birds, especially a baby owl, helped them through the arduous process of adopting a child.
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