Birds and Songs and Bird Songs

I walked along the edge of a cliff. Under my feet, grass. To my right, a hundred-foot drop to the waters of the English Channel. A strong wind blew off the water and over the cliff, blowing the loose ends of hair in my face, obnoxiously. To my left was a field, planted with something […]

We Are Still Arguing About Jonathan Franzen

Since Jonathan Franzen’s essay “Carbon Capture” went live on the New Yorker’s website last week, environmentalists and the journalists who write about them haven’t been able to stop bickering about it. Whether Franzen was wrong-headed or visionary, dumb or prophetic, he clearly touched a nerve when he asked, “Has climate change made it harder for […]

On a Decade of Getting Pooped On By Birds

1. Washington, D.C., 2004 or so A bench around a circular planter, with a tree in it. I was eating my lunch. I felt something on my arm. We call it poop, but the stuff that comes out of birds’ behinds is more complicated than that. Birds, like most vertebrates that aren’t mammals, have a […]

On the Trail of the Great Tinamou

Three years ago, I spent a while in the rainforest of Panama, for a story. It’s one of those swashbuckling freelancer stories, except—like so many of those—it’s not all that swashbuckling when you get down to the details. I was an hour’s drive (on good roads) from an international airport. I was staying in a […]

Down the chimney

Tomorrow, I’m driving to Oregon for a friend’s wedding. While I’m there, I may get a chance to witness what has been described as an “avian tornado”: thousands of Vaux’s swifts dive-bombing a chimney at a Portland elementary school. A Vaux’s swift is a petite, grayish bird with sharp swooping wings and a stubby tail. […]

The macabre habits of the butcher bird

The remains of a horned lizard killed by a shrike. Wandering around New York’s American Museum of Natural History one day in May, I noticed a bird called the fiscal shrike. The small stuffed specimen, black with dashes of white on its wings, was perched on a shrub in a diorama of Kenya’s Kedong Valley. […]

Science Meets Bird, Bird Meets Science

Late last year, during a reporting trip in Cambodia, I shared a car for a couple of days with Simon Mahood, a British ornithologist who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Phnom Penh. Mahood, a devoted birdwatcher since childhood, was full of stories about the rare birds and remote places of Southeast Asia. But […]

Birds in a Blender

Imagine for a second that the country of Mexico was a long funnel, with the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts as the sides of the funnel. And imagine you were to roll a marble down the Pacific side, all the way from San Diego, down Sonora, passed Mazatlan, Jalisco (though it takes a little hop over […]