August 1, 2017

By Nancy Kuhl

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Part scientific endeavor, part leisurely pastime, the activity we call “bird watching” includes the careful work of devoted scholars and that of curious backyard observers. Seeing and identifying the birds around us gives many a sense of connection to our natural world, even as the very creatures we watch have long symbolized the untethered flight of the spirit. In games and children’s literature, personal notes and intimate correspondence, birds and their lives on the wing captivate the imagination.

Conjuring the observer in the field, the image of the bird watcher may seem far removed from libraries like the Beinecke. Although they may seem quite different at first glance, bird watching and archival research have a good deal in common. Like both ornithologist and amateur enthusiast, the archival scholar may be keenly focused on minute details, seeing and evaluating minor variation in seemingly similar things; she is patient—she sits quietly (sometimes for long stretches) waiting for something special to appear in a familiar place; she carefully records her findings in detailed—sometimes idiosyncratic—lists and descriptive narratives; she is, by turns, solitary in her contemplation and engaged in lively discourse with those who share her interests.

Bird Watching documents the real lives of birds—their forms, their songs, their behavior—in word and image; the exhibition honors, too, the birds of fantasy and wild imagination. Together these reflect an ongoing human fascination with the life of the skies. To read the labels and see descriptions of materials in the show please click here Bird Watching Checklist.

Beinecke Library exhibitions are always free and open to all, Monday, 10 am - 7 pm; Tuesday - Thursday, 9 am - 7 pm; Friday, 9 am - 5 pm; Saturday, 12 - 5 pm; Sunday 12 - 4 pm

IMAGE: Collage by John Digby from the Donald Windham & Sandy M. Campbell Papers