Slow Birding

Despite filling feeders and growing native plants, I continue to be disappointed by the birds that frequent our yard. So much of the same old, same old: cardinals, sparrows, chickadees. I do especially love chickadees—but where are the goldfinches, if not the bluebirds?

Joan E. Strassmann’s Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard challenges me to remember that there’s much to observe and learn about even our most quotidian avian neighbors. In a corrective to bird-watching as tally-driven competitive hunt, here’s an invitation to appreciate the magic of the ordinary creatures with whom you cohabitate, rather than rush all over tarnation chasing glimpses of rare or elusive ones. Strassmann’s exploration is personal and hyperlocal: In lively, conversational prose, she explores birds that populate a close radius around her own home in St. Louis, Missouri, such as robins, mockingbirds and blue jays. Even the oft-maligned European starling gets a chapter, and I love how Strassmann nudges us to rethink our prejudice against this invasive species. “If I wanted you to love European Starlings,” she writes, “I would start with murmurations, those mesmerizing movements of thousands of birds soaring, turning, turning again, then weaving around a forest, only to soar as if one again. . . . It is wonderful to be close to a murmuration of starlings, those pre-roosting evening rivers of life.”

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