Birding to Change the World: A Memoir (Hardcover)

Birding to Change the World: A Memoir By Trish O'Kane Cover Image
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In this uplifting memoir, a professor and activist shares what birds can teach us about life, social change, and protecting the environment.

Trish O’Kane is an accidental ornithologist. In her nearly two decades writing about justice as an investigative journalist, she'd never paid attention to nature. But then Hurricane Katrina destroyed her New Orleans home, sending her into an emotional tailspin.

Enter a scrappy cast of feathered characters—first a cardinal, urban parrots, and sparrows, then a catbird, owls, a bittern, and a woodcock—that cheered her up and showed her a new path. Inspired, O'Kane moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to pursue an environmental studies PhD. There she became a full-on bird obsessive—logging hours in a stunningly biodiverse urban park, filling field notebooks with bird doings and dramas, and teaching ornithology to college students and middle-school kids.

When Warner Park—her daily birdwatching haven—was threatened with development, O’Kane and her neighbors mustered a mighty murmuration of nature lovers, young and old, to save the birds' homes. Through their efforts, she learned that once you get outside and look around, you're likely to fall in love with a furred or feathered creature—and find a flock of your own.

In Birding to Change the World, O'Kane details the astonishing science of bird life, from migration and parenting to the territorial defense strategies that influenced her own activism. A warm and compelling weave of science and social engagement, this is the story of an improbably band of bird lovers who saved their park. And it is a blueprint for muscular citizenship, powered by joy.

About the Author

Trish O'Kane is a writer and a senior lecturer in environmental justice at the University of Vermont, where avians are her teaching assistants. A former human rights journalist in Central America and the Deep South, she has written for the New York Times, Time, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in Burlington, Vermont, with her writer-husband, their dog, and three chickens.

Praise For…

“[Birding to Change the World offers] reflections on ways that watching birds can renew our joy in nature, and maybe even transform our lives. . . O'Kane's story is richer in scope than I can convey here. . . Her book is a beautiful love letter to local activism and especially to the birds who teach her so much. . . [She invites] us to see the beauty of birds in our world and to act for their well-being.” —

“Heartening. . . . O’Kane’s work — and this book — are primers in the arts of observation and environmental activism.” — Los Angeles Times

“In this inspiring memoir, [O’Kane] [teaches] us how to make the earth better.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Fascinating revelations (even about the humble sparrow) punctuate this thoughtful discussion of complex birding issues such as wildlife management and environmental justice." — Scientific American

“O’Kane’s love for common birds fuels much of her work, a refreshing reminder of the incredible feats of nature happening in our own neighborhoods. . . . At its core, Birding to Change the World is about how people and birds today depend on one another.”  — Science News

"This is a love letter to birds—and to the people who love them." — LitHub

“Affecting…. [O’Kane’s] reverence for her avian subjects comes through on every page, and she retains a journalist’s keen eye for detail: 'The male cardinal reminded me of an Irishman, standing up to leave his pub at midnight, head held high and chest inflated as he sang his traditional a cappella goodbye song.' This soars.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this inspiring memoir…[O’Kane teaches] us how to make the earth better.” — Rapid City Journal

“A human rights journalist embraces environmental justice…in her engaging debut memoir…A delightful homage to birds and nature in general.” — Kirkus Reviews

“O'Kane's hard-to-put-down memoir of…the salvation found in the natural world will resonate with readers, aspiring writers, the environmentally minded, activists, and bird lovers.” — Booklist

“O’Kane writes eloquently and lyrically about her transformation, mixing science and pedagogy with wonderful storytelling. . . . [Birding to Change the World] is part memoir, part love letter to birding, part clarion call to action but always wholly engaging.” — Shelburne News

“Interwoven throughout the memoir is lots of bird science — magnificent ways that humans have learned from avians…O’Kane’s book provides a blueprint for how community action can result in real change, locally.” — Vermont Public Radio

"Not just a delightful story but a powerful one, showing how we can open doors into the natural world, and hence into the fight to defend it. Birds as teachers—a wonderful idea!" — Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

"Delightful and exceptionally readable. O'Kane's book may not actually change the world but it just might change the way you look at it.”
Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

"Trish O'Kane has discovered a terrific way to include more joy, beauty, awe, and wonder in your life: She teaches people about birds. With vivid lessons about the marvel of migration, the hope of nesting—and the peril of our changing climate—Birding to Change the World will do more than just change the way you view the planet. It will show you how to make it better, too." — Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

"What a marvelous book! Page by page, Trish O’Kane instructs and delights, teaching new ways to think about environmental activism, social justice, community, landscape, and the birds who revolutionized how O’Kane moves through just about every part of her life. Birding to Change the World is a brilliant and expansive guide to how to learn to be more human by learning to be more like birds. An instructive celebration of our wild wonderful world." — Camille T. Dungy, author of Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden

“Fascinating, insightful, informative, and inspirational—Birding to Change the World shows how to be a person and a citizen of the world. I could not put it down.” — Bernd Heinrich, award-winning biologist and author of The Snoring Bird

“Trish O’Kane has written a moving, inspiring invitation to the great conversation going on all around us, a conversation that can yet save us from the loneliness of our species.” — Richard Louv, author of the international bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

“This engaging new book by Trish O’Kane dissolves the boundaries between memoir, nature writing, conservation treatise, bird guide, and ecological manifesto. O’Kane is an intrepid educator who was drawn to birds through the sometimes-tragic upheavals of her life. Through her story we are reminded that birds can offer, simply by their presence, a healing of body and spirit, a call to earthen activism, instruction in social justice, and pure joy. Birds become a beautiful reminder of ecology’s greatest lesson: that all aspects of life are always and forever interconnected.” — Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Rooted

“This immersive book is touching, funny, and profoundly human. Through tragedy and hope, outgoing community action and profound introspective reflection, Trish O’Kane leads us through the world of birds and through her own. If you are not a birder before reading this tale, you will be when you’re through."
Paul Robbins, Dean, Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063223141
ISBN-10: 0063223147
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: February 27th, 2024
Pages: 368
Language: English