Birds to Live By by Rebekah Lowell
One of my earliest memories is hearing the nocturnal cry of the Whip-poor-will outside my bedroom window and being afraid. But once my father explained that it was a bird, I was intrigued and mystified, all fear vanished. My love of birds started to form.
After reading IF I WERE A BIRD by Gladys Conklin and Artur Marokvia to me, my mom said I talked in my sleep saying I “I want to sleep with a feather on.”
I hid in the tall grasses surrounding my childhood home, waiting to see who would show up when I was still. Bobolinks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and House Sparrows swooped in as I sat in wonder. The unmistakable robot-sounding song of a Bobolink is a beacon of summer, and I will never forget it. Sketchbook and pencil in hand, I explored the world.
My love of nature and birds was nourished through my grandparents and parents. This is why I dedicated CATCHING FLIGHT to them. My grandfather kept hand-written bird lists (I have one of them), told me stories about every bird he saw in the woods, and how he fed Black-capped Chickadees out of his hand. I helped my mother fill the feeders growing up, and both of us still do. Now I live across the road from my childhood home and the topic of conversation among my family is often birds. When a snowstorm comes, we’re sure to fill feeders to the brim and toss plenty of mealworms for the Bluebirds. My father watches and waits for the Mourning Doves to roost in the cedar trees surrounding their house. Over 50 took shelter recently, and we listened to the flapping as they situated themselves for the night. Flocks of Wild Turkeys come to dine on cracked corn then roost in pines on the edge of the field because they stay close by to the neighborhood watering hole. Birds are part of daily life.
Even before I created CATCHING FLIGHT, birds have always been part of my art. I’m a five-time Maine Duck Stamp artist, I’ve created repeat patterns with birds, feathers, seeds, and footprints. The first picture book I ever wrote (at RISD) was about that Whippoorwill. I also rescue wild birds for Avian Haven and help transport them for rehabilitation.
If you’re a kid and want to get into birding, there are some tools and communities to help!
First, grab a pair of binoculars and go outside and look around. What can you find? Start looking at birds, notice where they come from and where they are going.
You can buy a physical field guide, such as any by Peterson, Sibley, Kaufman, the Audubon Society, the American Birding Association, and more. There are also apps that can help ID birds, such as Merlin Bird ID. In that app, you can even use a photo you took to ID, or record a bird call or song, and the app will give you its best guess based on the sound recording and location. A birder sometimes also has something called a life list. This is a list of birds a birder has seen over their lifetime, and it can also serve as a list of birds a birder wants to see over their lifetime. There are books to track this, or you can just start writing down the birds you’ve seen, or there is an app crated by Cornell University called eBird where you can keep lists, times, locations and enter data, as a citizen scientist, that Cornell uses to learn behavior and patterns, especially during migration that takes place during the spring and fall. Something to always remember when viewing birds, or any wildlife for that matter, it’s best to stay a respectful distance and not interfere with their actives because often, human presence can affect their very survival. It’s best to admire from afar, through your binoculars, so as not to disturb or make wildlife change their behavior because we are there.
Birds draw us in because they are a message of resilience and hope. They teach us to look to the skies. They show us that a flock is stronger than one, but if you must be alone, you’ll still be okay because you have your wings to carry you. If you’ve ever witnessed a bird soaring, you know the feeling of awe. Birds show us that you can change locations when you have to, be resourceful when you need to, or wait out a storm when it rolls by. There is something to be said for the dependability of seeing Canada Geese return each spring, knowing that sunny days will follow. The rhythm of birds is a reminder that everything will be okay.
birb: a super cute and adorable bird, often very round and fluffy in appearance
lifer: the first time in your life that you see a particular bird
rare bird: a bird that is not common to an area
twitch or chase: to go after a bird, often a rare bird, and document it on a list
male: boy bird
female: girl bird
breeding pair: a male and female seen together
migration: the change in place that birds make
bins or binocs: short for binoculars
spark bird: the bird that inspired someone to start birding
usual suspects: the birds a birder would expect to see in a given location
warbler neck: the achy neck that happens when looking up for too long
REBEKAH LOWELL is an author, illustrator, and surface designer with a passion for the natural world. As a survivor of domestic abuse, she has found the outdoors to be a healing grounds. Rebekah has a BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in Children’s Literature and Illustration from Hollins University. Her artwork has been featured on the Maine Duck Stamp five times and she is also an art educator, locally and online.
Rebekah’s debut middle grade novel in verse, The Road to After, was published by Nancy Paulsen Books in 2022, and her debut picture book, Catching Flight, publishes with Doubleday Books for Young Readers in spring 2023. When not in her studio, you can find Rebekah wandering outside—birding, gardening, nature journaling, rescuing birds for Avian Haven, and raising butterflies—often with her daughters, who she homeschools. She lives with her family in her hometown of Biddeford, Maine. See more of Rebekah’s work at rebekahlowell.com and follow her on Instagram at @rebekahlowell and on Twitter at @RebekahLowell.
I live on the north side of Lake Ontario close to where so many birds migrate over the water. For the past two weeks I’ve been “catching the flight” of the early comers. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, and today I think I spotted 3 red-tail hawks soaring so high in the blue sky that their whitish underbellies flashed in and out of view. Your book sounds delightful! I definitely will recommend my favourite bookstore carry it as they stock birding books for those who’ll soon be flocking here to view the migrations.
Beautiful post. Can’t wait to read this book!
Thank you for this post–and for your lovely-looking book, which is now on my TBR and TBShared list! We love birds here in Pennsylvania, too!
Looking forward to this book!
Love this, Rebekah!!
The book looks lovely. I will be checking it out. Thanks for the post.