The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature, with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

For this book, we collaborated with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and promoted the stunning imagery of a Seattle-based photographer, Gerrit Vyn, whose fascinating work takes him around the world studying and recording birds. The book features the warm yet brilliant writing of renowned writers Barbara Kingsolver and Jared Diamond, among others.
Kate Rogers Kate Rogers
Editor and Chief of Mountaineers Books
October 31, 2017
The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature, with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
With photography by Gerrit Vyn and personal note by Kate Rogers, Editor in Chief of Mountaineers Books

I think what has made this book even more meaningful for all of us here is the subject itself—birds. When the project first came to us, photographer Gerrit Vyn used the title “Why Birds?” It’s a good question. Why do we care about them? What makes them so interesting and draws our attention? How is it that so many birds are iconic and for so many different reasons?

Think of the Bald Eagle, American Robin, Marbled Murrelet, or Wild Turkey: each conjures a different idea or image in our collective experience. Of all the animals in nature, birds are frequently the most accessible, most visible (or, at least, audible), living in our backyards and twittering in the forests that line our trails. Almost everyone I know has a “favorite” bird, or at least one memorable experience involving a feathered friend. For me, there are two stand-out moments: As a kid, I attended summer camp in northern Ontario where the camp director was a licensed Canadian bird-bander. In three different places across the camp’s acres, bird nets were stretched out and campers monitored them throughout the day, in between swimming, canoeing, and compass practice. I learned how to gently untwine a caught bird, hold it properly, and carry it back to the office to deposit in a special bird box, where it awaited banding and data recording.

Over those summers, I held many birds—finches, warblers, a Cedar Waxwing, even a fledgling Kingfisher—but the most memorable was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, so small it almost could have flown through the holes in the net. The speed of its tiny beating heart was unfathomable, and unforgettable!

Many years later, when I stood in a lush garden on Bainbridge Island, about to say my wedding vows, my intended, Tom, and our guests were astonished when first a Bald Eagle and then, just minutes later, a Great Blue Heron each landed on different trees rising above where we stood. The eagle is Tom’s favorite bird; the heron, mine. Obviously, we took it as a very good sign for our marriage.

“All the birds among us offer a window into a different kind of knowing,” writes Lyanda Lynn Haupt in her essay included in The Living Bird. A different kind of knowing, a different kind of pleasure, a different kind of lightness — Mountaineers Books is so proud to share this intimate look at all the wonderful birds among us.


The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature, with original essays by Barbara Kingsolver, Jared Diamond, John W. Fitzpatrick, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and Scott Weidensaul. Includes 250 images, of over 100 North American bird species.

This article originally appeared in our November/December 2015 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.


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