Dawn Songs: For Birds and Humanity, a United, Diverse Voice

Bird at dawn. Photo by Shaun Wilkinson/Shutterstock

Dawn Songs: A Birdwatcher's Field Guide to the Poetics of Migration is an anthology edited by Jamie K. Reaser and J. Drew Lanham. The book features lyrical reflections on humanity's relationships with birds through the works of 60 writers. Proceeds from the book will support American Bird Conservancy's (ABC's) Conservation and Justice Fellowship program, which seeks to expand the intersections between biodiversity conservation and environmental justice.

To continue the celebration of this book's publication, ABC interviewed the editors to get more details of what went into the creation of Dawn Songs.

What was the inspiration for creating this book?

May 13th, 2023, is the 30th Anniversary of International Migratory Bird Day (now World Migratory Bird Day). I (Jamie) co-founded IMBD when I served as Bird Conservation Specialist for the Smithsonian Bird Conservation Center and Co-Chair of the Partners in Flight Education and Outreach Working Group. The intent for IMBD was, first and foremost, to celebrate Neotropical migratory birds and the migration phenomenon. Through Dawn Songs, I wanted to re-spark that spirit of celebration for the birds and in the human heart. To protect life — birds and other species — we need to bring ourselves back to life by falling in love with the world again, to remember our place as a part of rather than apart from Nature. Celebration is generative. What if humans got up every morning at dawn, stepped outside, and sang? Perhaps migratory birds can show us the way home.

How did you go about selecting what to include?

We reached out to the authors — people we know who, like ourselves, write at the interface of Nature and human nature. Many are well-established writers in poetry and lyrical prose genres. Others are people who have had fewer opportunities to voice their stories and sentiments. One of our intents in bringing Dawn Songs together was to amplify such voices, to invite the lesser-known authors onto a perch from which they could be better heard. And, of course, authors we invited reached out and invited other authors along the way. This was also part of the book's intent: that we held our vision for it loosely, let it become what it wanted to become. It became a chorus 60 voices strong.

What do you hope Dawn Songs will accomplish?

Dawn Songs is more than a book: It is an invocation, a calling together of birds and birdwatchers across diverse landscapes and indefinite identities. It is a celebration of what unites us at the edges of Nature and human nature. It is, in part, Emily Dickinson's "Hope [being] the thing with feathers." The Reader's Guide at the end of the book is intended to guide the reader into the deep terrain of birds and birdwatching through contemplative practices — thought-provoking and heart-opening explorations of the poems, essays, and song lyrics.

What inspired the decision to give the book's proceeds to ABC's Conservation and Justice Fellowship Program?

Shared fate is the plight of birds and human beings. Ultimately, we need to find ways to survive (and hopefully thrive) in the same air, the same water, the same soil — all on this same Earth, broadening the scope of bird love, care, and concern to others beyond the traditional conservation "choir." Our dawn chorus gives voice in a different way and hopefully a means through donation of the proceeds, to support and inspire others to sing for better for birds and us, too.

Dawn Songs is available from online retailers and bookstores.

Learn more and engage with others enjoying Dawn Songs: Visit the Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Support Conservation and Justice Fellowships at American Bird Conservancy with a gift now »

About the editors:

Jamie K. Reaser is an ecologist, international policy negotiator, and award-winning literary writer. She is co-founder of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and International [World] Migratory Bird Day.

J. Drew Lanham is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Conservation and Cultural Ornithology at Clemson University. He received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2022.