In Birds Art Life, writer Kyo Maclear embarks on a yearlong, big city adventure chasing after birds, and along the way offers a luminous meditation on the nature of creativity and the quest for a good and meaningful life.

For Vladimir Nabokov, it was butterflies. For John Cage, it was mushrooms. For Sylvia Plath, it was bees. Each of these artists took time away from their work to become observers of natural phenomena. In 2012, Kyo Maclear met a local Toronto musician with an equally captivating side passion—he had recently lost his heart to birds. Curious about what prompted this young urban artist to suddenly embrace nature, Kyo decides to follow him for a year and find out.

Birds Art Life explores the particular madness of loving and chasing after birds in a big city. Intimate and philosophical, moving with ease between the granular and the grand view, it celebrates the creative and liberating effects of keeping your eyes and ears wide open, and explores what happens when you apply the core lessons of birding to other aspects of life. On a deeper level, it takes up the questions of how we are shaped and nurtured by our parallel passions, and how we might come to cherish not only the world’s pristine natural places but also the blemished urban spaces where most of us live.


Canada: Doubleday, 2017
US: Scribner, 2017
UK: 4th Estate, 2017
Spain: Ariel (Grupo Planeta), 2017
China: CITIC Press, 2017
Taiwan: Gūsa Publishing, 2017

Praise and Reviews

• Books That Teach Valuable Life Lessons, Parade

• 27 Nonfiction Books By Women Everyone Should Read This Year, Huffington Post

• Top Ten Biographies, Indigo

“Intricate and delicate as birdsong, Kyo Maclear’s clear-eyed observations of the natural world and our place in it challenge the velocity of modern life. A year spent birding is a year spent in passionate introspection. As she discovers beauty in urban cityscape, she leads us to turn fresh eyes to our surroundings. Her beloved birds become messengers of both loss and hope.”
—Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way

“Every now and then you read a book that changes the way you see the world. For me, Birds Art Life is one such book. The writing is marvelously pure and honest and light. At the same time, magically, it is erudite, generous and brimming with meaning and event. It is a book I know I will return to again and again for inspiration and solace.”
—Barbara Gowdy, author of The White Bone and We So Seldom Look on Love

“A beautifully crafted memoir that elevates the ordinary with intelligence and humility.”
—Leslie Feist, musician

“Original, charming, a little eccentric even. This book is a delight.”
—Nigel Slater, author of Toast and Tender

“Birds Art Life feels like a passionate defence of the things we so consistently overlook—the tiny, the invisible, the seemingly inconsequential, the precious…The memoir’s structure is a lot like a tidy cupboard brimming with beautiful objects—each one taken from a shelf, examined for a short time and returned, to allow another to reveal its wisdom…I often found myself flipping backward, revisiting underlined passages, relishing the insight offered on everything from health and aging to introversion and extroversion, familial and romantic love to success and failure, courage and fear. Birds are indeed the narrative thread, but a love for them, or even an interest in them, is not necessary to appreciate what Maclear has accomplished. What it means to be human is the overarching subject, and readers will find a universality in Maclear’s experiences, along with countless passages worthy of returning to time and time again.”
The Globe and Mail

“Maclear’s writing is fresh and focused. If you’ve ever felt any of the emotions she discusses—worry for one’s parents, feeling stuck, feeling insignificant, feeling lost—there will be a passage in this book that will resonate.”
Emerald Street

“The simple precision of Maclear’s prose belies the depth, as if the book were the tip of the iceberg and what she has elided or omitted constitutes the rest. . . . Writers and others will find inspiration in the advice to stop and hear the birds.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A literary jewel box… These brief, well-paced tales possess a peripatetic air while touching on core questions of humanity…Maclear’s book is appealing in its appreciation of non-human nature in the midst of city life, agnosticism about the place of human activity in the midst of nature’s rhythms, and exploration of the relationship between captivity and freedom.”
Publishers Weekly

“I can hardly put this down…Yes, it’s about birding. But so much more.”
Charlotte Observer

“Maclear’s musings will appeal to readers who enjoy nature writing focused most on the search for meaning in a hectic world.”

“One of Maclear’s gifts is attentiveness, her insistence on getting to the heart of things. She likes noticing and thinking. When her experience as birdwatcher offers her a lesson, she makes the most of it. The significance of small ambitions. The virtue of waiting. The importance of knowledge. The acceptance of brokenness. It seemed that by spending time with her writing, I had become more perceptive and thoughtful myself. Her courage and curiosity had turned out to be contagious…Our lives are tiny, this brave book reminds us, and the world we inhabit is scarred and beautiful.”
—Candace Savage, Literary Review of Canada

“an incandescent exploration of beauty, inspiration, art, family and freedom that seems to leave no topic out of its binocular scope.”
Toronto Star

“Strange, lovely, profound… Maclear, who lives in Toronto, writes books for children, and her prose here is direct and clear, each sentence carrying as much weight as a line in a picture book, or in a poem…This book is a lovely song — a symphony — for all of us.”
Star Tribune

“In an age in which bombastic noise often triumphs over quiet contemplation, Maclear offers a lyrical ode to the beauty of smallness, of quiet, of seeing the unique in the ordinary.”

“a fragile fluid commentary… The reader can relax in the solitude of Maclear’s musings as the words gently flow into the consciousness.”
Seattle Book Review

“The beauty of her writing and playfulness with language leap forth”
Quill and Quire

“Maclear is my kind of seeker…At the heart of this memoir is the pleasure of someone who had lost her spirit finding it again, re-forging that link between ‘soul and landscape; as she watches, and learns to see the smallest of wild things.”
Business Standard

“In this beautifully-crafted memoir, beloved Toronto-based children’s author Kyo Maclear recounts the humble joys of urban bird-watching…Birds Art Life is an inspiring book about introspection and creativity, love and solitude.”
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly

“This book is beautiful.”
The Book Cover Judge

“How often can you say that a book is like nothing you have ever read before? Well, Birds Art Life Death is exactly that for me. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word, even, of Kyo Maclear’s memoir felt like it had been carefully, and maybe painstakingly, selected – and the result is…perfection.”
After the Rain

“The stories in this memoir contain echoes of her picture books, works that are so rich in thoughtfulness and wisdom——and now grown-up readers get to read it all too…This is precisely the very book I need to be reading right now, not to escape from the things outside my door that make me afraid these but instead to “enliven the questions.” A book that—like so much that I’m reading these days, like so many books that are saving my life—helps me negotiate that space between hope and despair.”
Pickle Me This

“Birds Art Life is a charming book, as delicate as a warbler’s plumage… its modesty is its most attractive feature.”
Winnipeg Free Press

Purchase the audiobook from Audible or S&
Watch an interview with Kyo Maclear about Birds Art Life
Read an extract from Birds Art Life
Read the Scribner Reading Group Guide for Birds Art Life
See photographs by the bird guide featured in Birds Art Life