In the first days of spring, birds undergo a spectacular metamorphosis. After a long winter of migration and peaceful co-existence, they suddenly begin to sing with all their might, varying each series of notes as if it were an audiophonic novel. They can't bear the presence of other birds and begin to threaten and attack them if they cross a border, which might be invisible to human eyes but seems perfectly tangible to birds.
Naturalists and ornithologists have put forward competing theories to try to explain this remarkable transformation. Is this display of bird aggression just a pretence, a game that all birds play? Or do birds suddenly become territorial – and if so, why? When ornithologists realized that the borders of bird territories were contiguous, they were stunned: it seemed that territory building is a way that birds continue to live together by organizing themselves differently. By observing the use of territory among a wide range of species, scientists began to think that birds were creating their own neighborhoods, within which they sing together and even, on occasion, form alliances to attract females.
By attending carefully to the ways that birds construct their worlds and ornithologists have tried to understand them, Despret sheds fresh light on the activities of both, and at the same time enables us to become more aware of the multiple worlds and modes of existence that characterize the planet we share in common with birds and other species.
Originally published in French as Habiter en Oiseau by Actes Sud in 2019.
The power to affect
A Poetic of Attention – Stéphane Durand
Gathering up the knowledge which has fallen from the nest – Baptiste Morizot
Vinciane Despret is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liège.
– The Environmental Magazine
"Without forgetting the dangers of violence and extinction, Despret's writing always makes the world more generous, open, surprising, and generative. Living as a Bird inquires about and engages with "territory" and "territoriality" in exquisite specificity and concrete detail, exploring these birds, these writers and observers of birds, these sounds and calls, these rituals and affects. In the process, this potent little book describes and proposes a polyphonic score. Readers learn how to pay attention, to attend, to tune the senses and to open the imagination. What emerges are bird-rich, science-rich stories that are less deterministic, less self-satisfied with Explanation, more open to manoeuvre, both for birds and for humans who tune themselves to complex avian performances of their becoming in place."
– Donna Haraway, Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz