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Good Reads  Ornithology  Birds: General

Conversations with Birds

Nature Writing New
By: Priyanka Kumar(Author)
286 pages, b/w illustrations
Conversations with Birds
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  • Conversations with Birds ISBN: 9781639550807 Paperback Oct 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks
  • Conversations with Birds ISBN: 9781571313997 Hardback Dec 2022 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks
Selected version: £19.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

"Birds are my almanac. They tune me into the seasons, and into myself."

So begins this lively collection of essays by acclaimed filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar. Growing up at the feet of the Himalayas in northern India, Kumar took for granted her immersion in a lush natural world. After moving to North America as a teenager, she found herself increasingly distanced from more than human life and discouraged by the civilization she saw contributing to its destruction. It was only in her twenties, living in Los Angeles and working on films, that she began to rediscover her place in the landscape – and in the cosmos – by way of watching birds.

Tracing her movements across the American West, this stirring collection of essays brings the avian world richly to life. Kumar's perspective is not that of a list keeper, counting and cataloguing species. Rather, from the mango-colored western tanager that rescues her from a bout of altitude sickness in Sequoia National Park to ancient sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and from the snowy plovers building shallow nests with bits of shell and grass to the white-breasted nuthatch that regularly visits the apricot tree behind her family's casita in Santa Fe, for Kumar, birds "become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world."

At a time when climate change, habitat loss, and the reckless use of pesticides are causing widespread extinction of species, Kumar's reflections on these messengers from our distant past and harbingers of our future offer luminous evidence of her suggestion that "seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us."


1. Mango-colored Bird
2. A Zen Monk at Work
3. The Rasa of Bulbuls
4. A Flicker of Light
5. The Fruit Orchard
6. Le Petit Nuthatch
7. Interlude: Western Tanager
8. The Bobcat in my Rosebed
9. The Mystery Dimension
10. Messengers from the Past
11. Damsels Floating in Air
12. Crepuscular Activities
13. Prairie Dog Town
14. Pedernal Mountain
15. La Jornada del Muerto
16. Lifting the Veil
17. Desert Breeding Grounds
18. Mi Casita
19. The Mountain Lion of Birds
20. Clifftop

Customer Reviews


Priyanka Kumar is the author of Conversations with Birds. Her essays and criticism appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Huffington Post, and High Country News. She is a recipient of the Aldo & Estella Leopold Writing Residency, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award, a New Mexico/New Visions Governor's Award, a Canada Council for the Arts Grant, an Ontario Arts Council Literary Award, and an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Fellowship. A graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts and an alumna of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Kumar wrote, directed and produced the feature documentary The Song of the Little Road, starring Martin Scorsese and Ravi Shankar. Kumar has taught at the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of Southern California, and serves on the Board of Directors at the Leopold Writing Program.

Nature Writing New
By: Priyanka Kumar(Author)
286 pages, b/w illustrations
Media reviews

– A 2023 Firecracker Award Finalist
– An Apple November 2022 Best Book of the Month

"In this collection of elegant and evocative essays, a novelist reflects on the beauty and significance of birds, those animals that 'become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.'"
New York Times

"This isn't just a book about birds, it's a look at the joy and curiosity we feel when we build connections with the natural world [...] With gorgeously descriptive language, [Kumar] shares her fascinating discoveries about birds and uses them as a gateway to explore topics like climate change, racism, and spirituality. For anyone feeling lost in our increasingly complicated human world, Conversations with Birds is just the compass you need."
– Apple, "November Best Books of the Month"

"Kumar wows in this sparkling exploration of her relationship with the birds that serve as her 'almanac' and help her tune 'in to the seasons' and to herself [...] Kumar's reflections are rendered in elegant prose and are rich with vivid descriptions: 'At the brink of the water, turquoise with milky sprays, the birds pirouetted and scooted away from the vigorously choppy waves' [...] These outstanding reflections will inspire and enlighten, and are perfect for readers of Diane Ackerman."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"An eloquent depiction of how birding engenders a deep love of our ecosystems and a more profound understanding of ourselves."
Kirkus, starred review

"Priyanka Kumar's outstanding and profoundly moving book Conversations with Birds [...] could help people around the world rewild their hearts and souls [...] [A] landmark, most timely book."
– Marc Beckoff, Psychology Today

"In 20 vignettes and essays, Priyanka Kumar lovingly narrates how encounters with birds have molded her outlook on life, family, and nature, bridging the mountains of her childhood in India to her adult wanderings in California and New Mexico. A spark was Kumar's chance 'mango-colored bird' sighting – a Western Tanager – that stirs her to 'aliveness' during a near-death experience; her powerful musings take off from there. Her writing is full of beauty but also tells of destruction of the interconnected ecosystems that sustain birds and people. 'Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us,' she writes."
Audubon, "Six Books for Bird Nerds and Nature Lovers"

"Just as immersion in nature inspires a mix of profound awe and renewed curiosity about this Earth we call home, so, too, does filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar's mesmerizing essay collection, Conversations with Birds – rendered in finely wrought prose, steeped in memory and thrumming with endless curiosity."
BookPage, starred review

"In the luminous essays of Priyanka Kumar's Conversations with Birds, birds are a portal to reclaiming childhood connections with nature and the lush, wild landscape of northern India's remote mountains."
Foreword Review

"Novelist Kumar takes stock of the beauty she's found in birds, from northern India to the American West."
Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Nonfiction Book for Fall 2022

"Kumar reflects on climate change, habit destruction, beauty, and the importance of staying open to wonder."
Book Riot

"Kumar's effortless and elegant writing style weaves each thread into one seamlessly fashioned piece that keeps readers turning each new page in anticipation of whatever she offers next. Although her focus is primarily on birds, she takes time to acknowledge myriad other creatures as they struggle to maintain their place here on earth."
– Brian Doyle, Christian Century

"Conversations with Birds consists of Kumar's observations, insights, and engagement with birds and the earth in prose that feels like a gentle guide for the reader to nurture their own relationship with nature, whatever it may look like [...] Kumar's writing is one of many reminders of what we have to lose, and what we must save."
– Sarah Neilson, Shondaland

"Kumar's illustrative writing style has the power to bring readers along on the journey through arroyos and Georgia O'Keefe's mountains. The dwindling number of eagles wintering in the wetlands of New Mexico evokes a certain sadness. Kumar emboldens readers to act upon concern for all sentient beings amid widespread ecological demise."
– Maileen Hamto, San Francisco Book Review

"In Conversations with Birds [...] Priyanka Kumar shares her vast knowledge of birds and wildlife [...] The author's word choices and turns of phrase are sometimes downright delightful, enlivening her reportage of birdwatching treks."
Pasatiempo Magazine

"It is glorious to be in this world with Kumar. It will prompt you to get out and explore wherever you are living."
– Emily Weber, Hippocampus Magazine

"Conversations with Birds does something that few other bird books do: passionately writes about that moment when a person becomes a birder [...] [this book] reveals a bright new voice among the usual bird literature."
– Mark Lynch, Bird Observer

"Growing up in India, Priyanka Kumar felt connected to the natural world. It was hard to find that in America as an adult-until she and her husband were invited to go on a bird walk, unlocking that passion once again. Conversations with Birds chronicles just some of Kumar's most significant avian encounters in the American southwest, ranging across the map from songbirds to birds of prey. These beautiful reflections range from spiritual to breathtaking to concerns of how our rapidly changing climate puts all of life at risk-not just the things with feathers. Gorgeous, stirring, and memorable."
– Andrew King, Secret Garden Bookstore, Seattle, WA

"This book spoke to my soul. A city girl whose connection to the natural world became more and more tenuous as I got older, I moved to the country to restore it. My daily soundtrack became the call of songbirds, jays, doves, geese, swans, and heron. Nothing can take your breath away quicker than watching a Coopers Hawk or Bald Eagle alight on a branch, or carrying on a literal conversation with a Chickadee. Kumar captures the wonder of creatures many of us take little notice of, but whose lives, migration patterns, and habitats are increasingly threatened by climate change and development."
– Alana Haley, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI

"Conversations with Birds gives me hope that the dozens of pollinators will survive and underscores that we must all do better to preserve that outcome. Our challenge is laid out in this compelling and beautifully written memoir: address the negative impact of our occupation of this planet and shed blessings upon the species we share it with. Priyanka Kumar and I both celebrate that companionship. Her thoughtful and gracious book leaves me in awe of the possibilities."
– Todd Miller, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

"A bird the color of mangoes, a beachcomber with a crescent-moon bill, the owl who controls the dark side of nature: in unforgettable encounters with feathered neighbors like these, Priyanka Kumar charts the life-changing surprise and splendor that birds can bring. They open the heart. They widen the soul. For Kumar, a peripatetic filmmaker and often a stranger in a strange land, birds have revealed connection and created wholeness. How grateful I am for the chance to join this generous author's lyrical, intimate, and revelatory conversations with birds!"
– Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus

"Birds have guided Priyanka Kumar through danger, loss, joy, and change. In her moving collection of elegant essays, Conversations with Birds, she recounts her close encounters with cranes and curlews, owls and tanagers, generously sharing their wisdom and her own."
– Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

"Priyanka Kumar is attuned to the animating power that links her-and you and me-to our fellow creatures. While she has a deep affinity for birds, especially cranes and eagles and owls, she communes as well with bobcat, coyote, fox and their four-legged kin. It is a joy to travel with this versatile artist, often in the company of her husband and their two young daughters, as she roams the American Southwest in search of elusive and majestic wildlife."
– Scott R. Sanders, author of The Way of Imagination

"Priyanka Kumar's graceful and unusual work reminds us, again, of everything we lose with each insult to the natural world. Conversations with Birds is a wonderful read!"
– Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever

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