Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Parakeets": A poem by Grace Nichols


Parakeets wheel
in a flash of green
among the forest trees
sunlight smooth their feathers
cool leaves soothe their foreheads
creeks are there for beaks
lucky little parakeets

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

Birds in Art: Valentine Cameron Prinsep's "Il Barbagianni"

Valentine Cameron Princep's "Il Barbagianni" features the beautiful barn owl, or  Tyto Alba

Princep painted this piece one year after the death of the female model in the painting, Lizzie Siddal. Read more about this painting on the blog, The Beautiful Necessity.

Birds in Shakespeare: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

The ouzel cock, so black of hue
with orange-tawney bill,
the throstle with his note so true,
The wren with little quill---

The finch, the sparrow, and the lark,
the plainsong cuckoo gray,
whose note full many a man doth mark
And dares not answer "Nay"---

(A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 110-113, 115-118)


A Midsummer Night's Dream, edited by Mario Digangi

Other articles/sites concerning Shakespeare and birds:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Virginia Woolf's Essay "The Plumage Bill"

Virginia Woolf, from the time of her childhood, opposed the use of bird plumage in fashion. 

Below is an excerpt from her essay "The Plumage Bill," which originally appeared in Woman's Leader on 23 July 1920, in reply to what Woolf saw as a sexist piece written by H.W. Massingham, editor of the Nation, and active member of the Plumage Bill Group. 

And then there comes on foot, so that we may have a good look at her, a lady of a different class altogether. A silver bag swings from her wrist. Her gloves are white. Her shoes lustrous. She holds herself upright. As an object of beauty her figure is incomparably more delightful than any other object on the street or window. It is her face that one must discount, for, though discreetly tinted and powdered, it is a stupid face, and the look she sweeps over the shop windows has something of the greedy petulance of a pug-dog's face at tea-time. When she comes to the display of egret plumes, artfully arranged and centrally placed, she pauses. So do many women. For, after all, what can be more ethereally and fantastically lovely? The plumes seem to be the natural adornment of spirited and fastidious life, the very symbol of pride and distinction. The lady of the stupid face and beautiful figure is going tonight to the opera; Clara Butt is singing Orpheus; Princess Mary will be present; a lemon-coloured egret is precisely what she wants to complete her toilet. In she goes; the silver bag disgorges I know not how many notes; and the fashion writers next day say that Lady So-and-So was 'looking lovely with a lemon-coloured egret in her hair'. 

This essay originally appeared in Woman's Leader on July 23, 1920. The above excerpt is from The Essays of Virginia Woolf 1919-1924, edited by Andrew McNeillie

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Killdeer Plover Mugs and T-shirts available on our Zazzle store!

Killdeer Plover
Killdeer Plover by LiteratureLyrics
Check out other Bird Mugs at

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"The Cuckoo" by Thomas Gillet (1832)

The Cuckoo

'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and it makes the woods rejoice,
Its startling note wakes hill and dale,
And is lovelier deem'd than the throstle's tale,
For it tells that the genial seasons come,
Of leafy woods and fields of bloom,
Of music and perfume, loves and joys,
Of balmy gales and clear blue skies.

'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and it makes my heart rejoice,
For the memory of by-gone days it brings,
Ere youth flew o'er me on downy wings;
Hope's iris gliding my prospect's extent,
Ere I knew what the world or what sorrow meant;
Man's follies and crimes to me yet unshown,
And I liv'd in a bright fairy world of my own.

'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and it makes the world rejoice,
Where rings that sound, but with pleasure 'tis heard?
Who but welcomes the visit of spring's sweet bird?
It speaks to the sick one of coming relief,
And beguiles e'en the lonely captive's grief;
'Tis the cuckoo's voice! 'Tis the cuckoo's voice
Resounds, and all nature's realms rejoice.

Thomas Gillet (1832)

The juvenile wreath; poems chiefly on subjects of natural history [by T. Gillet]. (Free on Google Books)

Fashioning Feathers

Feathers in Fashion takes a look at the long history of feather use in fashion, some of which is appalling to conservationists. 

For more information about the history of feathers in the fashion industry, see Robin W. Doughty's book: Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation: A Study in Nature Protection

"The Unknown Bird" by Edward Thomas

Young Man Walking with Dogs in Fontainebleau Forest

The Unknown Bird


Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him
Though many listened. Was it but four years
Ago? or five? He never came again.
Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off—
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he travelled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded. All the proof is—I told men
What I had heard.
                                   I never knew a voice,
Man, beast, or bird, better than this. I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference. Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or other, but if sad
'Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. But I cannot tell
If truly never anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straightway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Guest Post: "Victorian Caged Birds" by Jane277

Victorian Caged Birds
by Jane277

        While keeping caged birds in the home might not be as popular as it once was, it is something that has a long history in the UK. In the Victorian era there was a large surge in the popularity of exotic animals that would be imported from far and wide; it was not unusual for pet store owners to import exotic animals and this would include birds and parrots, which were then chosen as pets. 

        It was customary to keep cats, dogs and even monkeys during Victorian times, but it was birds that were the most revered. The caged birds would be treated as pets and there were extremely common in the homes of the wealthy and the middle classes. According to Romanticism and Animal Rights by David Perkins, the owners of these birds would caress and speak to the birds as though they were children. However, birds weren’t just kept as pets; their cages were considered a crucial part of decoration in the Victorian parlour.

        Birds would be kept as pets because their owners appreciated their songs and their appearance. In addition, they would also serve as companionship. However, the keeping of caged birds in Victorian times wasn’t just common among householders. Shop workers, weavers and barbers would keep birds to accompany them as they worked. (Perkins).
Songbirds were often kept; canaries and thrushes were favoured for their sweet songs and parrots were not uncommon during Victorian times.

The Gilded Cage

        During the reign of Queen Victoria, women would often be compared to birds because of their beauty and elegance, and to some the caged bird very much represents the role of the women in the Victorian era. Women were often confined to the indoors, and it was thought that the role of a female was to stay at home and keep the house. It was considered that being a wife and mother was fulfilling enough for a woman, but attitudes did slowly begin to change.

The Empty Cage

        Bird cages would often be kept empty. Victorian cages were ornate and decorative, so much so that they would be used purely as decoration.

Modern Times

        To this day, the Victorian bird cages still play a part in beautifying the home; reproductions of these decorative cages are used as part of home d├ęcor.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Free Historical Bird E-Books available from Google

Find these historical e-books about birds in nature, bird folklore, and bird keeping  for free on Google Books.

The Travels of Birds by Frank Michler Chapman

Birds of the Bible by Gene Stratton Porter

Something about Birds by Ernest Ingersoll

The Folk Lore and Provincial Names of British Birds by Charles Swainson

Ornithology by William Swainson

The Bird Keepers Guide and Companion (1853)

Canary Birds: A Manuel of Useful and Practical Information by Mary S. Wood

Canaries and Cage-Birds by George Henry Holden

The Bird-Life of London by Charles Dixon

A Hand-Book to the Birds of Great Britain by Richard Bowdler Sharpe

History and Description of Land Birds by Thomas Bewick

Dryden and Chimney Swifts at Twilight in a Small Southern Town

The Travelers' Inn
Dozens of swifts swirl around the chimney of an old shop in downtown Hartselle, Alabama at twilight. Some fly down the chimney, while others circle round before departing to their own secret roost. It's a strange sight, bringing to mind John Dryden and his description of swallows in autumn from the poem, "The Hind and the Panther".

New Vintage-style "I Love Birds" T-shirts

Buy yours on Zazzle

This vintage style "I Love Birds" t-shirt is available on multiple styles/colored shirts, as well as with purple, blue, yellow, red, and green design. Also available on other products like mugs, pillows, totes, etc. Find this design and more bird lover designs at the Literature Lyrics store on Zazzle.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"The Caged Goldfinch" by Thomas Hardy

Illustration by G. H. CLEMENTS

The Caged Goldfinch

Within a churchyard, on a recent grave,
I saw a little cage
That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence save
Its hops from stage to stage.

There was inquiry in its wistful eye,
And once it tried to sing;
Of him or her who placed it there, and why,
No one knew anything.

-Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dances that mimic birds: The Crow Hop

Crow Hop Dance

"The Crow Hop originated from Western Tribes. It, too, is a social dance meant 

to mimic the crow as he bounces around the field. One legend states that the 

crow brought fire to our land to keep our ancestors alive through the cold 

winter. Dancers imitate bird-like movements, hopping side-to-side, first on one 

foot and then on the other."


"The Cuckoo Sings" A Haiku by Mukai Kyorai (1651-1704)

Carolina Cuckoo illus. by Mark Catesby

The cuckoo sings
at right angles
to the lark

-Mukai Kyorai

Translated by Burton Watson

"The Vultures' View of Man" by Samuel Johnson

Crested Vulture by Thomas Bewick

Idler 22 (Original)
Saturday, 9 September 1758.
By Samuel Johnson
Edited by Jack Lynch

[1] Many naturalists are of opinion, that the animals which we commonly consider as mute, have the power of imparting their thoughts to one another. That they can express general sensations is very certain; every being that can utter sounds, has a different voice for pleasure and for pain. The hound informs his fellows when he scents his game; the hen calls her chickens to their food by her cluck, and drives them from danger by her scream.
[2] Birds have the greatest variety of notes; they have indeed a variety, which seems almost sufficient to make a speech adequate to the purposes of a life, which is regulated by instinct, and can admit little change or improvement. To the cries of birds, curiosity or superstition has been always attentive, many have studied the language of the feathered tribes, and some have boasted that they understood it.
[3] The most skilful or most confident interpreters of the silvan dialogues have been commonly found among the philosophers of the East, in a country where the calmness of the air, and the mildness of the seasons, allow the student to pass a great part of the year in groves and bowers. But what may be done in one place by peculiar opportunities, may be performed in another by peculiar diligence. A shepherd of Bohemia has, by long abode in the forests, enabled himself to understand the voice of birds, at least he relates with great confidence a story of which the credibility may be considered by the learned.
[4] “As I was sitting, (said he) within a hollow rock, and watching my sheep that fed in the valley, I heard two vultures interchangeably crying on the summit of the cliff. Both voices were earnest and deliberate. My curiosity prevailed over my care of the flock; I climbed slowly and silently from crag to crag, concealed among the shrubs, till I found a cavity where I might sit and listen without suffering, or giving disturbance.
[5] “I soon perceived, that my labour would be well repaid; for an old vulture was sitting on a naked prominence, with her young about her, whom she was instructing in the arts of a vulture's life, and preparing, by the last lecture, for their final dismission to the mountains and the skies.
[6] “‘My children,’ said the old vulture, ‘you will the less want my instructions because you have had my practice before your eyes; you have seen me snatch from the farm the houshold fowl, you have seen me seize the leveret in the bush, and the kid in the pasture, you know how to fix your talons, and how to balance your flight when you are laden with your prey. But you remember the taste of more delicious food; I have often regaled you with the flesh of man.’ ‘Tell us,’ said the young vultures, ‘where man may be found, and how he may be known; his flesh is surely the natural food of a vulture. Why have you never brought a man in your talons to the nest?’ ‘He is too bulky,’ said the mother; ‘when we find a man, we can only tear away his flesh and leave his bones upon the ground.’ ‘Since man is so big,’ said the young ones, ‘how do you kill him. You are afraid of the wolf and of the bear, by what power are vultures superior to man, is man more defenseless than a sheep?’ ‘We have not the strength of man,’ returned the mother, ‘and I am sometimes in doubt whether we have the subtilty; and the vultures would seldom feast upon his flesh, had not nature, that devoted him to our uses, infused into him a strange ferocity, which I have never observed in any other being that feeds upon the earth. Two herds of men will often meet and shake the earth with noise, and fill the air with fire. When you hear noise and see fire which flashes along the ground, hasten to the place with your swiftest wing, for men are surely destroying one another; you will then find the ground smoaking with blood and covered with carcasses, of which many are dismembered and mangled for the convenience of the vulture.’ ‘But when men have killed their prey,’ said the pupil, ‘why do they not eat it? When the wolf has killed a sheep he suffers not the vulture to touch it till he has satisfied himself. Is not man another kind of wolf?’ ‘Man,’ said the mother, ‘is the only beast who kills that which he does not devour, and this quality makes him so much a benefactor to our species.’ ‘If men kill our prey and lay it in our way,’ said the young one, ‘what need shall we have of labouring for ourselves.’ ‘Because man will, sometimes,’ replied the mother, ‘remain for a long time quiet in his den. The old vultures will tell you when you are to watch his motions. When you see men in great numbers moving close together, like a flight of storks, you may conclude that they are hunting, and that you will soon revel in human blood.’ ‘But still,’ said the young one, ‘I would gladly know the reason of this mutual slaughter. I could never kill what I could not eat.’ ‘My child,’ said the mother, ‘this is a question which I cannot answer, tho' I am reckoned the most subtile bird of the mountain. When I was young I used frequently to visit the ayry of an old vulture who dwelt upon the Carpathian rocks; he had made many observations; he knew the places that afforded prey round his habitation, as far in every direction as the strongest wing can fly between the rising and setting of the summer sun; he had fed year after year on the entrails of men. His opinion was, that men had only the appearance of animal life, being really vegetables with a power of motion; and that as the boughs of an oak are dashed together by the storm, that swine may fatten upon the falling acorns, so men are by some unaccountable power driven one against another, till they lose their motion, that vultures may be fed. Others think they have observed something of contrivance and policy among these mischievous beings, and those that hover more closely round them, pretend, that there is, in every herd, one that gives directions to the rest, and seems to be more eminently delighted with a wide carnage. What it is that intitles him to such pre-eminence we know not; he is seldom the biggest or the swiftest, but he shews by his eagerness and diligence that he is, more than any of the others, a friend to vultures.’”


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Wonder

Perched there, the robin shook her tail and fluffed up her body feathers before letting everything settle back into place. Then she began to preen, turning and dipping her beak to lift and comb individual quills and vanes, like a fussy housekeeper arranging and rearranging the furniture. I smiled, but who could begrudge her perfectionism? Those feathers impacted every aspect of her life. They protected her from the weather, warding off the sun, wind, rain, and cold. They helped her find a mate, broadcasting her femininity to any male in the neighborhood. They kept out thorns, thwarting insects, and, above all, gave her the skies, allowing a flight so casually efficient that our greatest machines seem clumsy in caparison. Abruptly satisfied with her plumes, the robin dropped from the branch and set off over the field, wings parting the air in quick, certain strokes. I lowered my binoculars, far behind the Audubon group now, but glad to have been reminded of a natural miracle, feathers, as common around us as a robin preening and taking flight.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vinkensport: Bird Calling Sport going strong for over 400 years

"Vinkensport (Dutch for "finch sport") is a competitive animal sport in which male common chaffinches are made to compete for the highest number of bird calls in an hour. Also called vinkenzetting (Dutch finch sitting), it is primarily active in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium.
Vinkensport traces its origins to competitions held by Flemish merchants in 1596, and is considered part of traditional Flemish culture. As of 2007, it was estimated that there are over 13,000 enthusiasts, called vinkeniers ("finchers"), breeding 10,000 birds every year. Animal rights activists have opposed the sport for much of its history." READ MORE HERE.

NY Times article about Vinkensport: One-Ounce Belgian Idols Vie for Most Tweets Per Hour

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Birds in Literature: Laurence Sterne's Starling

  The Starling, block 1, A Sentimental Journey (1938)

I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained “it could not get out.”—I look’d up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without further attention.

In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage.—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.

I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach’d it, with the same lamentation of its captivity.—“I can’t get out,” said the starling.—God help thee! said I, but I’ll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turn’d about the cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces.—I took both hands to it.

The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, press’d his breast against it, as if impatient.—I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.—“No,” said the starling—“I can’t get out—I can’t get out,” said the starling.

I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call’d home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille; and I heavily walk’d up-stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.

Bird Name Origins in English: Cormorant


"In early medieval times the cormorant was named 'sea raven' --that is, in Latin, corvus marinus. This passed into Old French first as cormareng, which later became cormaran. English adopted it and added a final t. The word's origins are still evident in Portuguese corvo marinho 'cormorant.'"

Ayto, John., Dictionary of Word Origins (New York, 1990)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bird Haiku: Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

1781 painting by Maruyama Okyo

Fanning out its tail
in the spring breeze,
see--a peacock!

-Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Vultures" A poem by Margaret Atwood

by Margaret Atwood

Hung there in the thermal
whiteout of noon, dark ash
in the chimney’s updraft, turning
slowly like a thumb pressed down
on target; indolent V’s; flies, until they drop.

Then they’re hyenas, raucous
around the kill, flapping their black
umbrellas, the feathered red-eyed widows
whose pot bodies violate mourning,
the snigger at funerals,
the burp at the wake.

They cluster, like beetles
laying their eggs on carrion,
gluttonous for a space, a little
territory of murder: food
and children.

Frowzy old saint, bald-
headed and musty, scrawny-
necked recluse on your pillar
of blazing air which is not
heaven: what do you make
of death, which you do not
cause, which you eat daily?

I make life, which is prayer.
I make clean bones.
I make a gray zinc noise
which to me is a song.
Well, heart, out of all this
carnage, could you do better?

Reaktion Books Ltd. Animal Series Books (Natural History)

Reaktion Books Ltd. (Animal Series):

Peacock by Christine E. Jackson (Amazon)

Falcon by Helen MacDonald (Amazon)

Owl by Desmond Morris (Amazon)

Crow by Boria Sax (Amazon)

Parrot by Paul Carter (Amazon)

Pinguin by Stephen Martin (Amazon)

Sparrow by Kim Todd (Amazon)

Vulture by Thom Van Dooren (Amazon)

Chicken by Annie Potts (Amazon)

Duck by Victoria de Rijke (Amazon)

Ostrich by Edgar Williams (Amazon)

New bird books on the bookshelf