Tougias’s Birder on Berry Lane (Imagine, Mar.) gives a month-by-month account of the birds that pass through his backyard over the course of one year.
How do you approach conveying your enthusiasm to readers who might not be avid birders?
I chose to write in the first person and in the present tense so that readers can experience bird-watching through my eyes. I try to make them feel that my experience is their experience. I struggled with doing this in the beginning, but I found this is the best way to put forth my writing: to offer a little bit of poetry with my prose. I don’t want to be too technical, but I want to be informative even for the advanced birder.
Do you see each bird as a character in itself? If so, how do you characterize nonhuman subjects?
Each bird does have its own character, but I don’t tend to anthropomorphize my subjects. I’m more interested in how scientists characterize individual birds. I was just watching and lis- tening to chickadees, learning more about the sophisticated way they com- municate with distinct sounds. An ornithologist can hear the subtle changes between one bird and another, can hear how the “-dee” is accented on the end of the chickadee’s call. I’m very into science like this, and that keeps my more imaginative side in check.
Can you explain the distinction between bird call and bird song?
A bird’s song is more territorial and seasonal because it’s about attracting a mate, whereas a call is yearlong. I was just listening to Carolina wrens, which spend the winter here. They were calling out to each other: They’re checking on each other, like they were saying, “I’m okay. I’m over here.” It’s like texting—checking in with others who matter to you.
What have bird survival techniques taught you about surviving as a writer?
Observing nature has taught me to be persistent. To focus. To go all out until I’m exhausted, when sending out queries and to make proposals perfect. The benefits will come later.
What do you hope readers will take from your book?
I hope they pay more attention. Many people have feeders but they’re not really noticing the behavior of the birds that come. I hope that after reading this book, they will be more aware, even of the common birds. Birds, whether common, like the robin, or rarer, like the red- shouldered hawk, should not be overlooked.
Why write a book about birds now?
It gives the reader a positive, whole- some feeling. There’s so much bad news pumped out, divisive news, that people tend to forget about the real world that sustains us. Nature teaches us that there’s still so much going on that’s right with the world.