The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds

I first heard Julie Zickefoose on All Things Considered, the diverse NPR radio program hosted by Melissa Block. I was drawn to her everyday observations of plant and animal life and her wise insights into the quiet and mundane. Currently living on an 80 acre wildlife sanctuary in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio, artist and naturalist Zickefoose has ample opportunity to observe and draw. Since childhood she has rehabilitated injured or abandoned birds, now imbuing her own children with an "appreciation of nature and empathy for the small and helpless." (p. x)

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds is Zickefoose's collection of essays collected over decades, accompanied by beautiful sketches, handwritten notes, and elaborate watercolors. Each chapter, 25 in total, details the author's encounter with a particular type of common bird. While describing her varied experiences, she gives much information about each species. She humbly calls this, in her chapter about the Carolina Wren, "kitchen sink ornithology."

But her book also deals with the elusive Ivory Billed Woodpecker as well as the emerald Macaw she purchased as a pet in 1989. As a former owner of pet canaries, her piece made me smile with recognition. The neurotic behavior that sometimes accompanies a wild bird in captivity, not to mention the expense, were both issues I could relate to.

As for the chapter on the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, it serves to underscore her sense of hope mixed with a warning.

The ivory-bill was an extravagant creature by all accounts, a vision in ebony and white...It needed a lot of timber, with many old, dying trees, and it was willing to travel to make its specialized living. We cut its habitat right out from under it, and we continue to cut it. We've sent it countless messages with our saws and our columns of smoke. Leave or die out. Find somewhere else to live. This land is our land now. And it just doesn't listen to us; it goes on, somewhere, I have to believe it; not dead but missing in action; alive, defiantly, desperately, joyously, alive. (p. 264)

The Bluebird Effect is beautifully written, informative, funny and heart-felt. It is the perfect springtime book for nature enthusiasts everywhere. Zickefoose's personalized stories imbue almost human qualities, such as thankfulness, to the wild birds she has rescued. But the real gift is the enriched life they so obviously give the author.

To listen to her NPR essays or simply look at her paintings, go to

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