Amy Tan’s new bird book (and feeder thoughts)

(Let’s not blame the story’s picture captions on Ms Tan). She was once one of my favorite novelists. Now, her attention has turned to capturing local birds’lives into charming drawings
Amy Tan turns to the birds


Thanks for sharing the article! As a birder, I especially appreciate that she says she does not count birds suggested by Merlin unless she sees them! And her drawings are simply delightful.


I heard an interview with her about her bird book on the local radio. One thing I found disturbing about it is that in order to observe and draw the birds, she was putting out thousands of meal worms every day for years, sometimes several thousand a day, in addition to many other kinds of foods and inducements. The behavioral and ecological side effects of that are substantial, and can transform local bird communities.


What a lovely article.Thank you for sharing it. Thanks to retirement I have been able to spend a lot of time with my garden birds; just the “commoners” found in a lot of Johannesburg gardens. What I have really enjoyed has been getting to know all the calls so that whatever I’m doing I can still bird by ear.

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Yes, you raise an interesting point. Hmmm… the NYT article above talks about how she has a relationship with the birds as a dependable source of food. She lives in Oakland, which is a part of a very large metropolitan area, with some pockets of green space.

Lots of people have bird feeders. I’ve tried various seeds and meal worms feeders*. However, I soon gave them up as they often attracted rodents and many squirrels. (My neighbor was very happy to get the meal worm colony for her bearded dragon). I wish I could feed them as there are way fewer birds here than when I was a child. We just don’t have so many big trees and natural food sources here as when this was a semi-rural, agricultural area.

I guess in urban and suburban areas, the bigger impact to bird communities is due to loss of habitat than backyard feeders**. Stil, I will think more about your POV on feeders and maybe do some more research.

*I only keep hummingbird feeders now due to the attraction of “pests”. I even found a skunk in my patio once, eating the kick-out seed. Yikes!

** Do feeders help or hurt?: Synopsis: They don’t help birds that are most threatened, but they do not hurt the kind of birds that visit backyard feeders

**Cornell Lab on bird feeders


If you can call that a relationship.

It’s nice when butterflies come to me. But it isn’t because they like me; it’s because I have skin salts. It’s nice when minnows come to me. But that also isn’t because they like me; they nibble at my legs looking for dead skin flakes.

Whatever we might feel toward nature, nature will never view us as anything more than the waitstaff. I find that sad.

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Why sad? I don’t expect any animal, other than maybe my dogs, to feel anything toward me but indifference, wariness, or fear. I’d like a bird to sit still while I try to photo it but I don’t expect it to. If the relationship with certain wildlife is purely transactional — I provide food and the birds come in closer than they would’ve — I can accept that.


I did not think this was meant as ‘relationship’ in the same sense as bonding with another human type of relationship. Relationship is a broad concept and I interpreted the statement in the article as a larger meaning of the word.


Because it emphasizes the gulf between us and nature.

True there is a gulf in understanding or empathy or trust or however you want to define it between humans and other animals on the planet. Maybe dogs and dolphins are an exception, and I’m sure there’s still some disconnect with them. There’s the same gulf between almost any pair of nonhuman species which each have their own agendas.

The difference with us is we understand the gulf exists.

Of course, you can go really gloomy and say that the same thing about the gulf between humans and other humans. How well does anyone ever really understand another being?

I prefer to think about what connects us. Out of all the planets in the universe, we live on the same one! We share this planet with plants and animals and other organisms! When you start from there, then anything seems pretty amazing, really.

For example, one time a chickadee at a park was chicka-dee-dee-deeing at me, and I grabbed some seeds from a wingstem plant, and held them out, and the bird landed right on my hand and picked up a seed. It then dropped the seed, and flew to a nearby branch.

Of course I interpreted that interaction in my human way, and the bird interpreted that in its bird way. I’m sure that at best it thought of me as a faster-moving tree that wasn’t very good at dispensing peanuts! But for a moment, it knew that I existed, and I think that’s pretty good for a relationship between two totally different species.


I heard Amy Tans interview on NPR. Was not impressed. I’ve always thought birds have an important ecological role feeding on seeds and insects. Seems like they should be dispersed in the environment instead of concentrated at bird feeders. I am not aware of much scientific research on this subject but would love to know more.

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I am still looking at articles about this. Most articles are about whether bird feeders are beneficial or harmful to the birds*, and less often do I find one about impact of feeding birds on the environment .

Here is one that that discusses the different manners of bird seed dispersal and impact to the environment in how seeds are dispersed:

Birds play an indispensable role in seed dispersal, aiding in the propagation and regrowth of plant species. Through their feeding habits and behaviors, birds facilitate the dispersal of seeds from berries, allowing for colonization of new areas and the maintenance of genetic diversity within plant populations. Their activities promote cross-pollination, contribute to soil fertility, and support ecosystem restoration efforts. However, birds face challenges such as competition with other seed dispersers, habitat destruction, and climate change. Conservation efforts aimed at protecting bird populations and their habitats are crucial for ensuring the continuation of seed dispersal processes and the maintenance of ecological balance and biodiversity. By recognizing and valuing the role of birds in seed dispersal, we can work towards the conservation and preservation of these important ecosystem processes.

the gist of those articles, it seems to me, say that habitat destruction by humans is the major threat to birds and how they impact the environment. Not surprising.

It’s easier for me to find articles intended for the general public, not the scientific community. That said, most of the research articles I’ve looked so far are relatively old, circa 2014-2018. I plan to look for more recently published info.

(I will try amend the topic title to reflect the feeder discussion that has developed)