Skip to main content

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
Russia: Ad Marginem Press, 2018

Praise and Reviews

• #1 National Bestseller

• 2017 Nautilus Book Award for Lyrical Prose, Gold Winner

• 2018 Trillium Book Award, Winner

• 2017 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, Finalist

• The Globe 100, Best Books of the Year

• The Best Canadian Nonfiction of 2017, CBC Books

• 10 Best Books of 2017, Now Magazine

• Best Books of the Year, National Post

• Best Books of 2017, Entropy Magazine

• 12 Best Books About Birds And Birding Of 2017, Forbes

• 8 Best Books About Birds in 2017, Birds and Blooms

• CBC Books 2017 spring reading list

• Books That Teach Valuable Life Lessons, Parade

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

• Top Ten Biographies, Indigo

• The Best Nature Writing of 2017, Chicago Review of Books

• Favourite Bird Books, London Free Press

• 13 Inspirational Books to Help You Reach Your 2018 Goals, Reader’s Digest

• 2017 Books of the Year, Pickle Me This

• BookNet Canada Favourite Books of 2017

• 2018 Markham Reads Shortlist

• 2017 Orillia’s Big Read

• Book Riot’s Best Short Nonfiction

“Gorgeous and wise, Birds Art Life is magic medicine for these tough times.”
—Naomi Klein, No is Not Enough

“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

“I loved this fragile, unique small memoir of discovering urban bird-watching while dealing and wrestling with middle age. On its surface, this book may seem strange. A memoir of urban bird-watching? But there’s more here. Maclear writes in this book, ‘Our economic growth model assumes if you make something small (unless it is boutique and artisanal, and thus financially large or monumentally miniature), it is because you are somehow lacking and frail.’ Three cheers for small. Bring back small! This is a book about life’s tiny beautiful things. I loved it.”
—Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome

“Part memoir, part scrapbook, part meditation …I perched with Maclear, happily charmed, for hours. This is a wondrous little book.”
The New York Times

“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 gives us an expansive and generous gift, a melancholy and joyful salve for living. With elegant, evocative prose, roaming curiosity, and quietly wild erudition, Birds Art Life is a beautiful book—lucid, exalting, and true.”
2017 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction Jury

“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

“This small gem of a book celebrates the oft-ignored value of the commonplace… it will linger in the reader’s mind and lends itself to multiple readings.”
Lincoln Journal Star

“One of my favourite reads this year.”
Kathleen Noonan, The Courier Mail

“Maclear makes birding her inspiration for this tender meditation on grief, loss and creativity. Guided by an unnamed musician friend – read closely and you can figure out who it is – and her sometimes alarming honesty, she creates a gorgeous personal statement that has universal implications.”
Now Magazine

“Readers often like to know the inspiration behind an author’s story, but in Birds Art Life the inspiration is the story. In this charming memoir, a year of urban birding leads to a host of realizations about living creatively.”
National Post

“Maclear’s short, lovingly crafted vignettes take the reader through 12 months and relate her own discovery of birds in the city as she deals with the impending loss of her father and her struggles to reignite her creative fire. Her story is a tribute to the art of observation — of both birds and humans.”
BookNet Canada

“Birds Art Life shares an eclectic mix of birdy information and insightful pop culture references, but mainly explores the nature of art and creativity, of human relationships, and particularly dealing with grief and anxiety. The illustrations are a visual feast of pen and ink sketches that make the print version of the book a special treat. If you enjoyed H is For Hawk, you will also love this inspirational book.”

“Meditative, beautifully written and full of unexpected insights, this lyrical memoir is an inspiring celebration of being a little lost.”
The Daily Mail

“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

“Every once in a while a book floors me… This month it happened again when I was stunned by Kyo Maclear’s elegant and wise memoir Birds Art Life.”
Not My Typewriter

“In the midst of what felt like one of the most unstable, threatening political climates I’ve ever known, these inquiries into how to balance vulnerability with strength, grief with hope, and anxiety with courage became a lodestar I turned to each day.”
8 Hamilton Ave

“The striking insightfulness of this memoir is utterly joyous.”
Astounding Yarns

“A field guide to the small and significant is an excellent summary, a philosophy. Small things are significant, and they exist within greater processes, just like we do. We can’t pretend to save everything, and we can’t pretend to have the answers, but we can do our best, and that’s what it all boils down to, in the end.”
Down the Rabbit Hole

“Melancholy and beautiful, Maclear’s book is about birds, yes, but it also brims with insights on bravery, noticing the small things, and creating a world where birds (and humans) can thrive.”
Great New Books

“It’s a sort of sad/hopeful memoir that contains a kind of loneliness that speaks to me. The author seeks small quiet, song-filled experiences and this for me, is tremendously endearing.”
Transactions with Beauty

“An introspective contemplation about the myriad rewards of taking time for careful observation, as well as some provocative insights about why we watch birds and what they bring to our lives…Maclear’s seemingly simple insights are often remarkable and, occasionally, astonishing.”
The Peterborough Examiner

“I recently finished Kyo’s Maclear’s memoir Birds Art Life and I was sad to put it down. It felt as if I was just getting to know someone – someone who shared my passions and the questions I have about the world around me. It was a conversation that I didn’t want to end!”
Songbird SOS Productions

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