The following is an excerpt from Birdmania, the latest book by author Bernd Brunner, translated by Jane Billinghurst.

The science of eggs is called “oology” (from the Greek “oion”) and not, as one might have guessed, “ovology.” Is interest in the outer covering of an egg an expression of the joy the observer feels as they anticipate the new life forming, unseen, inside? That is doubtful, because the act of collecting blown eggshells and storing them in boxes, drawers, and cupboards — taking them out from time to time to dust them off — pretty much shoots that theory down. Is there any connection at all between marveling at the object and appreciating the bird? It hardly seems possible that the urges to collect eggs and to delight in birdwatching could coexist in the mind of one person. Perhaps it is only the egg in all its flawless perfection that fascinates, and what the observer experiences is an appreciation for the object in and of itself?
More… “The Allure of the Egg”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.


The other day I was working at the kitchen table. It was a sunny afternoon, the autumn air cool and crisp. As I often do when the weather is so agreeable, I raised a couple of the kitchen windows and delighted in the fresh air, and the sounds of the breeze whistling through the trees in my backyard. More… “Oh, Give Me a Home . . .”

John Gifford is a writer and naturalist from Oklahoma.


If you haven’t seen the photos of Pluto, go look at them. If you have, go look again. The NYT has packaged them beautifully.

Also: how Pluto changed how we saw the solar system, and why we’ve never lost our enthusiasm for space travel.

Collector’s Weekly on the existential conundrum (and history) of the American waste-paper basket.

Gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman’s portraits of birds on the verge of extinction.

Nabokov said there is no reading, only rereading. Tim Parks doesn’t quite agree, but thinks he’s found the key to an illuminating reread, practicing with The Waste Land and Mrs. Dalloway. •

Diane Pizzuto is the art director and managing editor of The Smart Set.


In the last years of her life, Martha began to lose her feathers. Sol Stephan, General Manager of the Cincinnati Zoo, where Martha spent most of her years, began collecting the feathers in a cigar box without much idea of what he would do with them. Martha lived a sedentary life at the zoo. Her cage was 18 feet by 20 feet — she had never known what it was to fly free. When Martha’s last friend George (who was also named for a Washington) died in 1910, Martha became a celebrity. She watched the people passing by, alone in her enclosure, and they watched her. Martha ate her cooked liver and eggs, and her cracked corn, and sat. On the outside of her cage, Stephan placed a sign announcing Martha as the Last of the Passenger Pigeons. Visitors couldn’t believe that Martha really was the last. They would throw… More…

Some hummingbirds are no larger than a thumb, and the smallest among them are the very smallest birds in existence. Yet it’s hard to avoid superlatives when talking about these tiny creatures. With their often magnificent jewel-like colors, they glimmer like finely wrought works of art. In fact, they are miracles of nature: extremely agile, fast-moving animals that take the characteristics of birds to their utmost limit. Combining dynamism, fragility, and a surprising degree of fearlessness, hummingbirds can be found in the most diverse environments: in tiny front yards in North, Central, and South American cities; on the high plateau of the Andes; and in the dense Amazon forests.

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS,… More…

The pigeons scuttle into a corner when Conrad Mullins enters his backyard loft. He lunges for a bird and they fling themselves up, battering around. His arm snaps out and he grabs one right out of the air. He quickly secures its feet between his fingers and cups its tail with his palm, and then presses it against his stomach to prevent it from flailing and hurting itself. He turns it over in his hands. “Beautiful, beautiful,” he murmurs. “I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”


Two days from now, nearly 500 pigeons like this will race across the Nevada desert, back to the lofts like this, to which they have been trained to home.

The bird in Conrad’s hand seems resigned if not calm. “Here, hold it,” Conrad says. I take the bird’s feet, then its… More…

Unlike Thoreau, I could not be removed from the ruckus of civilization. No, I could escape for an hour or two at the most, taking advantage of an unexpected return of warm weather to spend some time in a tidal salt marsh. I write this to return to a place where the most regular sounds are the rustle and whisper of the dry reeds and grasses in the late afternoon breeze.


And then birds. Circling, the gulls cry. In this slant of light their white sides glow golden before they plunge out of sight to settle in a hidden channel of water flowing through the high grass of the meadows. Unseen, a sparrow chips at the afternoon.  A loud croak announces the presence of a nearby great blue heron, disturbed. Snow geese will winter here and add their… More…

I’ve been living in Antwerp for the last six months with my wife, the incorrigible Shuffy. One of the things to do if you’re in Antwerp is think about Peter Paul Rubens, the great 17th-century painter who spent much of his life in this city.


Antwerpenaars (people from Antwerp) aren’t always so enthusiastic about Rubens. But what city doesn’t have mixed emotions about its most famous sons and daughters, about the clichés, about the touristical kitsch that surrounds and suffocates the great ones? More than twice I’ve enthusiastically related my interest in Rubens to an Antwerpenaar, only to be met with a rolling of the eyes, followed by an audible sigh. The message is clear: Only an asshole would come to Antwerp to expend time and energy on the most obvious of subjects, the most boring of all… More…


Give a bird a seed, you feed it for a day. Give a bird a bird feeder, and you start driving its evolution. Who knew?

Scientists didn’t, at least not until they started studying the migratory patterns of Central European blackcaps in southern Germany and Austria. The small gray birds that summer there traditionally winter on the Iberian Peninsula, fleeing the nutritionally sparse region for the lush olives and fruits of sunny Spain every year. But in the 1950s, a small part of the population began overwintering on the British isles instead of Spain. It seemed like a case of different strokes for different songbirds, until German scientists discovered in 1992 that a genetic basis for the behavior had developed. The light cues that send the birds back to Germany each year come earlier in… More…

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that an ostrich and an oriole cannot mate. The two may share common traits: Each is covered with feathers, and eats through a beak, and lays eggs. But the average person knows it takes a lot more for two animals to get down to the birds and the bees, so to speak.

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon. 352 pages. W.W. Norton & Co. $27.95.

Anyone can look at these animals and see two species that are simultaneously related and distinct. And most know the reason behind such duality — it’s evolution, stupid. But while it’s easy to recognize evolution’s delineated products — the tiny, fast, and orange-breasted oriole; the bulky, flightless, and long-necked ostrich — the process itself is trickier to glimpse.

But consider the Monarch flycatcher…. More…