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[Book Review] Conversations with Birds

by Priyanka Kumar

Review by A.M. Larks



In Conversations with Birds, writer and filmmaker Priyanka Kumar introduces the reader to not only the world of birding but the why of birding and its natural progression into a naturalist mindset through her own journey and encounters in the wild.

 Loosely structuring the book around encounters with specific bird species like tanagers, cranes, goshawks, and bald eagles, Kumar relates more than her experience observing these creatures. In each essay, Kumar not only introduces us to the gifts of the natural world and the awe of experiencing it, but also the constant and undeniable peril it is in.


 Kumar’s writing is vivid, poetic, and devasting. Birds are the guiding light by which Kumar is able to engage in the landscape, but her background as a storyteller allows her to see beyond the constraints of birding life lists (lists of birds to see before one dies) and into the larger world and our place in it. Or rather, more aptly, what we have done to it.


Creating refuges, while helpful, as a stopgap measure to declining animal populations does not stem the tide if habitat needs and food sources are not also protected. Kumar draws attention to these myopic efforts, like saving only the nesting tree of a predator bird but clear-cutting the rest of its forest territory. All of which render the conservation effort essentially moot. Kumar’s boots-on-the-ground observations of animals that appear further back on the evolutionary timeline than we do, make the reader wonder who is entitled to possession of this valuable real estate we call Earth. Are humans, in fact, the trespassers?


Kumar’s answer to the ethics of how we live is to talk about sustainability and to reevaluate our standards. Shouldn’t other species, like birds, be more than just not extinct? Shouldn’t they be numerous? Thriving, not only surviving?


Through birding and her various adventures to see, experience, and understand the world that we all live in and on, Kumar seamlessly braids together wonder, curiosity, travesty, and hope. “There is no magic herb that can heal the wounds caused by the inexorable march of industrialization. What remains in our power, however, is to alter how we see the natural world and to appreciate that this finely tuned biome (what’s left of it) sustains numberless creatures, including us.”



A.M. Larks’s writing has appeared in NiftyLitScoundrel TimeAssay: A Journal of Nonfiction StudiesFive on the FifthCharge Magazine, and the   ZYZZYVA  and  Ploughshares blogs. She has served as a judge for the Loud Karma Productions’ Emerging Female and Nonbinary Playwriting Award and has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, CA. She is the managing editor and blog editor at Kelp Journal. She is the former fiction editor at Please See Me, the former blog editor at The Coachella Review, as well as the former photography editor at Kelp Journal. A.M. Larks earned an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside at Palm Desert, a JD, and a BA in English literature.


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