new england literary news

Baby birds in all their beauty

(illustrations by Julie Zickefoose)

For the birds

Julie Zickefoose marries her powers of observation and her skill with watercolors and birds to riveting effect in her upcoming book, “Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In first-person essays and about 400 watercolor paintings, she chronicles the development of 17 bird species, including ruby-throated hummingbirds and Carolina wrens. For more than 30 years, Zickefoose, who studied art and biology at Harvard, has drawn, rehabilitated, and written about birds. Her new book tops her others in sheer audacity: To understand the miracle of bird development, she painted the same baby bird every day until it left the nest. Some birds “metamorphose from a writhing pink hatchling no bigger than your thumbnail to a flying bird in eleven days,” she writes. Others take twice as long.


A bird rehabilitator since 1984, Zickefoose holds the proper state and federal permits to handle migratory birds. Most of the birds she painted are cavity nesters she plucked from bird houses on her 80-acre wildlife sanctuary in Ohio. She paints a nestling while it sits on a bed of tissues on a sheet of watercolor paper in her studio. In the 40 minutes it takes her to finish a painting, she feeds the bird three times. She then returns it to its nest. How does she know she’s retrieving the same bird when she arrives the next day? As she writes in the book, “I have noticed that young birds tend to keep the same seat in the nest throughout their infancy.”

The original watercolors by Zickefoose will be on display at the Museum of American Bird Art at the Mass. Audubon sanctuary in Canton from April 30 to Sept. 18. Zickefoose will give a talk there at 1 p.m. April 30. The opening reception runs from 1 to 5 p.m.


Additional talks by Zickefoose: April 23: 2 p.m. at Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge; free with museum admission; April 26: 6 p.m. Mt. Auburn Cemetery chapel, Cambridge; April 27: 7 p.m. Fruitlands Museum, Harvard $15; April 28: 7 p.m. Drumlin Farm, Lincoln $5

Thoreau award winner

Native American Linda Hogan’s first novel, “Mean Spirit” (Atheneum), was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991, the year John Updike’s “Rabbit at Rest” (Knopf) won. Her novel follows two Osage Indian families at a time when government agents and others swindled Indians out of their land. It echoes her own history. The government and banks foreclosed on her family’s land in Oklahoma in the 1930s.

Hogan is this year’s recipient of PEN New England’s Henry David Thoreau award for writing on nature. In addition to being a novelist, she is a poet and essayist who is the author of about a dozen books, including the memoir, “The Woman Who Watches Over the World” (Norton). A Chickasaw Indian, she lives in Colorado.

She’ll give a talk at the award ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday at MIT, Room 2-190, 182 Memorial Drive, Cambridge. Reservations are recommended. Details at

Coming out

 “Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and

Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work” by Gillian Thomas (St. Martin’s)

 “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business”

by Charles Duhigg (Random House)

■  “Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir” by Padma Lakshmi (Ecco)

Pick of the week

Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., recommends “Green Island” by Shawna Yang Ryan (Knopf): “This heartbreaking novel takes readers to an island with a history unknown to many: Taiwan. Told in luscious prose, ‘Green Island’ teaches readers about the humanity of mankind, the brutality of political power and unrest, and why some secrets are never told.”


Jan Gardner can be reached at