National Geographic has dubbed 2018 the year of the bird.
In its March issue, it focused on such amazing mysteries as the epic journey of the bar-tailed godwit, which flies nonstop 7,150 miles from New Zealand to Alaska during its migration.
Helena writer, Jim Robbins has kept an eye to the sky for years, sharing similar fascinating feathery facts.
The book, published in 2017, recently won the Montana Book Award from the Montana Library Association, which will be presented in April.
This coming week Robbins gives a talk, “Celebrating a Writer’s Journey,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, at Lewis & Clark Library.
He will also present a pre-event workshop from 5 to 6 p.m. April 3 at the library, when he will discuss his writing process.
Interestingly, birds have played a role in Robbins’ life since his initial journey West after college.
While searching for a new hometown in the 1970s, Robbins and his wife found a nest of baby birds they fed with an eyedropper — that is until a fateful and fatal intervention by a cat.
Robbins, a science and environmental writer who has written for the New York Times and authored or co-authored five other books, just returned from a trip to Australia earlier this month. He was a featured writer at the Adelaide Writers Festival.
He was also featured in a Planet Talks interview as part of the global festival WOMAD, World of Music and Dance.
And he appeared on several radio shows and twice at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, which hosts author and artist discussions before large audiences.
During one of these, “Feather Permitting: Jim Robbins on Birds,” interviewer Sean Dooley hailed Robbins’ book as a “wondrous read,” adding that perhaps it could be the spark to help awaken public interest in saving birds and the planet.
To get a sense of the magic and wonder birds bring to our world, one need look no further than Robbins’ account of the humble pigeon.
While some see only the nuisance of pigeon droppings, Robbins sees pigeons “at the heart of what animal geography is all about.” He calls them “the closest soul mate” from the the bird world that humans have.
Their companionship with humans stretches back as far as 10,000 years.
He writes: “There’s an important story behind this tough little streetwalker scrambling for crumbs in the gutter. …These birds learn much the way children do, and their vision and perception are uncanny.
“They can tell the difference in painting style between Monet and Picasso.” They’ve aided the Coast Guard as sentinels to find shipwreck survivors, served as couriers for centuries, and worked for the military carrying messages. One even earned the Croix de Guerre military honor in World War I for saving 194 soldiers.
Perhaps this feathery, rugged urban dweller could awaken in human minds and hearts a personal relationship with nature.
“The love for the urban pigeon…may play a key role in stanching the disappearance of global biodiversity.”
Human lives intertwine with that of birds in strange and wondrous ways.
They alert backyard birders and scientists to the health of the planet.
They have played a powerful role in helping some people heal and transform their lives, such as tough urban youths who discover the wonders of falconry.
And they are offering startling insights into bird consciousness or “megamind,” which could be what brings thousands of birds together in flocks and then take flight to migrate.
“I’m a little uncomfortable being in the spotlight,” admitted Robbins over coffee during an IR interview last week.
But he’s looking forward to his upcoming talk about birds and also his workshop on the writing process.
“Longevity is a key to being successful,” he said of his career, “and pushing through the obstacles. That’s where you learn. I’ve had lots of failures.”
He welcomes the attention his books and writing bring to the mysteries and miracles of the natural world.
Prestigious researchers and publications are praising Robbins’ book.
“A must-read, conveying much necessary information in easily accessible form and awakening one’s consciousness to what might otherwise be taken for granted . . . ‘The Wonder of Birds’ reads like the story of a kid let loose in a candy store and given free rein to sample. That is one of its strengths: the convert’s view gives wide appeal to those who might never have known birds well.” So wrote Bernd Heinrich in The Wall Street Journal.
“Engaging, thoughtful . . . This work is worthy of a place alongside David Attenborough’s documentary ‘The Life of Birds’ or Graeme Gibson’s ‘The Bedside Book of Birds.’ . . . Of wide-ranging significance, this offering will appeal to naturalists, anthropologists, linguists, and even philosophers as well as to lay readers,” wrote the Library Journal.
In an IR interview last year, Robbins said “There’s a lot of undiscovered aspects of birds. The theme of this book is how little we know about all this. There’s so much in the natural world that’s unrecognized…it’s remarkable how little we know about the world.”
He said this theme has actually run throughout all his books.
And it is once again the focus of his new book project that is in the works — but can’t be revealed at this time.
“Every time I write a book, my life is changed somehow,” he said. “One of the things that propels me to write books is that good writing can change people’s perceptions of the world. That’s what I’m trying to do.
“I’ve had people tell me that ‘this book changed my life.’”
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