A book to help the ordinary birdwatcher appreciate the fascinating songs, stories, and science of common birds in the USA.
Jack Gedney's studies of birds provide resonant, affirming answers to the questions: Who is this bird? In what way is it beautiful? Why does it matter? Masterfully linking an abundance of poetic references with up-to-date biological science, Gedney shares his devotion to everyday Western birds in fifteen essays. Each essay illuminates the life of a single species and its relationship to humans, and how these species can help us understand birds in general. A dedicated birdwatcher and teacher, Gedney finds wonder not only in the speed and glistening beauty of the Anna's hummingbird, but also in her nest building. He acclaims the turkey vulture's and red-tailed hawk's roles in our ecosystem, and he venerates the inimitable California scrub jay's work planting acorns. Knowing that we hear birds much more often than we see them, Gedney offers his expert's ear to help us not only identify bird songs and calls but also understand what the birds are saying. The crowd at the suet feeder will never look quite the same again. Join Gedney in the enchanted world of these not-so-ordinary birds, each enlivened by a hand-drawn portrait by artist Anna Kus Park.
Jack Gedney was born in California, bounced around the country in his youth, and returned to his home state to complete his education, studying literature and natural history at U.C. Berkeley. He is also the author of a compact field guide to the trees of the San Francisco Bay Area and co-owner of a wild bird feeding and nature shop in Novato, California.
"I'm a serious backyard birder with a library of over a hundred bird books. Gedney's is now one of my top favorites. His lyrical and deeply felt insights, in particular about bird language, enable us to see that common birds are anything but and deserve not just our love but our gratitude."
– Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club
"The Private Lives of Public Birds is an affectionate love song to our most familiar feathered neighbors. Grounded in science but watered by the heart of a poet, this intimate and personal look at the lives of the birds we see every day invites us to slow down and look again."
– John Muir Laws, author of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds
"Gedney has opened wide a portal for any and all, novice or expert, to enter a world of immediate avian wonder. With the help of ornithologists and poets and authors from the past – be they William Leon Dawson, Henry David Thoreau or creation stories of the Western Mono – Gedney gathers together nuggets of Goldfinch and treasures in feathers to be enjoyed whether we are gazing out our office window, stuck in traffic, or actively seeking."
– Keith Hansen, author of Hansen's Field Guide to the Birds of the Sierra Nevada
"What an eloquent reminder that we don't need to seek rarities to experience the wonder of birds. Jack Gedney's book mingles science, story, and poetry, inviting readers to become immersed in the world of close-to-home birdlife – not to just look at birds, but to look again with attention, stillness, study, and curiosity. This book awakens all of our senses, making every step outside the door an opportunity for joy and belonging."
– Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Rooted and Mozart's Starling
"What fun to follow Jack's curiosity as he bikes and birds and reads, bringing together dozens of human voices to deepen his essays, from Miwok and Yokut stories, to a range of writers such as Li Bai, Kurt Vonnegut, Mary Austin, Bernd Heinrich, and even Joanna Newson."
– Allen Fish, director of the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
"I can't remember the last time I started smiling during a preface, couldn't put the book down, continued smiling through chapter one (on the brown scratcher), two (the blue squawker), and beyond. What a delight! This book is filled with such wonderful perspectives on the supposedly ordinary birds all around us."
– Donald Kroodsma, author of The Singing Life of Birds
"With lyrical prose and joy-filled stories, this wise and generous book invites us to see better, listen better, and to celebrate the miracles happening around us in every yard and garden. If birds could read, they would say, This book gets it exactly right."
– Charles Hood, author of A Californian's Guide to the Birds Among Us