She Heard the Birds

h1 September 21st, 2021 by jules

“She taught people how to observe birds in nature. They saw that the more common types of birds were just as fascinating as the rare ones.
Shhhhhhh! Listen. What are they saying?”

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Andrea D’Aquino’s She Heard the Birds (Princeton Architectural Press, October 2021) captures the life and scientific contributions of ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey — and also reminds readers to stop, be still, look up, and see the birds.

D’Aquino frequently works with hand-painted collaged papers, and this book is no exception. (She also rendered these illustrations via oil pastels and pencil.) These playful, stylized collages are remarkably textured and feature greens of varying shades (including some eye-popping jewel tones), sapphire blues, and lemony yellows. Collage is well-suited to this story; we see, for instance, small pieces of torn paper for wispy clouds in the sky or even birds themselves, as Florence peers at them through her binoculars.

Young Florence “grew up surrounded by trees” and saw the natural world as “magical.” She learned about the stars from her mother, who was an astronomer, but could usually be found looking up at the birds, learning their songs. She knew that:

... she had to learn everything about them. Learning about birds meant being quiet — listening, waiting, and watching.

Gathering her tools for bird-watching (her camera, notebook, pencils, binoculars, and her two ears) as an adult, she watched and listened; wrote books and field guides about American birds; and pushed binoculars over guns as a way to study birds. She also railed against fashionable hats of her time that were adorned with the plumage of exotic birds. (A closing note explains that often some of these hats included the full carcasses of blue jays, woodpeckers, and even eagles and turkeys.)

The text emphasizes Florences’s successful efforts to make the world safer for birds, and the backmatter fleshes out more details of her life and accomplishments, including the fact that she became the first woman fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1929.

Her are some of the book’s compelling spreads. …


“When she was little, her father took Florence and her brother on a camping trip that lasted an entire summer. The world felt magical,
and she enjoyed talking with forest creatures all day long.”

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“She patiently leanred all of their unique songs and languages, so she could understand what the birds were saying. She had the feeling
they had something important to tell her.”

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“One day when she was older, Florence visited the big city and she saw lots of rare birds. But these birds were NOT on trees. People thought wearing birds on hats looked beautiful. To Florence, these hats were the ugliest things she had ever seen.”
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“But what was that sound? Florence learned that some bird-watchers used guns to shoot birds in order to study them. This was one of the worst sounds she had ever heard.”
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“Florence knew that if she was to make a difference, she had to dream big. She felt so sad and hopeless sometimes that she just wanted to fly away. But the birds told her she had more work to do. Florence decided to share everything she was learning about her feathered friends, so that others could hear what she said.”
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(Click cover to enlarge)


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SHE HEARD THE BIRDS: THE STORY OF FLORENCE MERRIAM BAILEY. Copyright © 2022 Andrea D’Aquino. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, New York.

One comment to “She Heard the Birds

  1. I recieived this book in the mail today, and was deeply impressed to learn of Florence Bailey’s dedicated work to stand for nature and especially for birds of all kinds. The art is appealing and inventive. I will soon post it to my own blog. Happy to read your comments on it.

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