Stories of avian wonder await from Louise Erdrich, Terry Tempest Williams, Alice Walker, Peter Matthiessen, Pete Dunne, Diane Ackerman, Kenn Kaufman, and many more

“In their ability to lift us above our worldly concerns, birds themselves are a precious gift, if only we are receptive enough to listen to their song,” writes editor Larry Habegger in the introduction to THE GIFT OF BIRDS: True Encounters with Avian Spirits (Travelers’ Tales; November 1999; Trade Paperback Original; $17.95) coedited by Habegger and Amy G. Carlson. This new anthology collects over thirty stories that explore countless ways that birds have enriched people’s lives. Contributors include top naturalists Kenn Kaufman and Pete Dunne, as well as well-known authors Diane Ackerman, Peter Matthiessen, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Terry Tempest Williams, and many more. These thoughtful, entertaining essays range from Australia to Antarctica, Siberia to South Africa, Central Park to China.

Enthusiasm for this popular recreational activity is apparent in the lengths some birders will go to catch a glimpse of their bird of choice. Diane Ackerman travels to a remote Japanese island, the final fortress of the endangered short-tailed albatross, and breaks three ribs while rock climbing in pursuit. “Through binoculars, I see the yellow crowns of the birds, so close now, but still so inaccessible.” Ron Naveen travels frequently from Washington, D.C. to Antarctica to see its hearty penguins, “prime examples of successful evolution in action. To see the chaos–a potpourri of courtship in full flower–it’s best to get to Baily Head in early December, and to get to as high a vantage point as possible. I’m right on time.”

Some writers manage to get startlingly close. Pamela Conley is happily caught in the middle of a pelican feeding frenzy at a Mexican beach resort. Jim Nollman, a pioneer in interspecies communication, writes about a dramatic and extended twenty-four hour conversation he has with a raven while camping in Northern Canada: “in so many ways the raven and I are alike. Subtle gestures enacted to display respect and friendship.”

For others, birds teach lessons about human relationships. For Louise Erdrich, observing the standoff between a small blue jay and a hawk teaches a lesson in determined self-preservation: “I see in that small bird’s crazy courage some of what it took for my grandparents to live out the tough times.” Mark Bittner learns how to trust while tending a flock of wild parrots on the deck of his apartment in San Francisco.

Birds may bring their gifts in strange and unexpected ways. Alice Walker finds inspiration in the maternal devotions of a chicken in Bali. Robert Boyle scans the streets for roadkill to feed his favorite turkey vultures.

Close encounters with birds call us to stillness, demanding our keenest attention to details that flicker around us. Simple but extraordinary gifts become ours: a heightened sense of vision, a reverence for all life, and a reminder of our connection with the natural world. For those who make it a daily devotion, like Sigurd Olson, a teacher, author, philosopher and defender of the wilderness who died in 1982, the songs of birds become memory itself:

“The sound of a whippoorwill means an orange moon coming up in the deep south; the warbling of meadowlarks the wide expanses of open prairies with the morning dew still upon them; the liquid notes of a robin before a rain the middle west and east; the screaming of Arctic terns the marshes of the far north. But when I hear the wild rollicking laughter of a loon, no matter where I happen to be, it means only one place in the world to me–the wilderness lake country and Listening Point in Minnesota.” —Sigurd F. Olson, “Laughing Loon”

About the Editors

Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel for magazines and newspapers since 1980. He is co-author with James O’Reilly of the syndicated newspaper column, “World Travel Watch”. He was born and raised in Minnesota and lives with his family in San Francisco.

Amy G. Carlson lives with her husband, Reed, in the mountains of Washington State where she stays busy building a house, teaching poetry, dodging hummingbirds, giving flute lessons, writing, and researching. She is coeditor ofTravelers’ Tales: Japan.

About Travelers’ Tales

Founded in 1993, Travelers’ Tales publishes the best in travel, nature, and spiritual writing from world-famous authors as well as new writers. Our goal is to inspire and enlighten readers through true stories of travelers and others who have explored the depths of their experiences. The series includes country and regional guides, books on adventure and the outdoors, women’s travel, spirituality, food, trouble and survival, consumer titles and, most recently, the series Footsteps: The Soul of Travel, featuring single-author travel narratives.

The Gift of Birds: True Encounters with Avian Spirits
Edited by Larry Habegger and Amy G. Carlson
Published by Travelers’ Tales
Publication Date: November, 1999
Trade Paperback Original
ISBN: 1-885211-41-4; 334 pages; $17.95 U.S., $26.95 Canada Available from bookstores, 1-800-998-9938, or