Birdgirl is an autobiography by a young birder. Thank you, netgalley and the publishers, for the chance to review it.

It was not easy to read. Some ARCs are perfectly well formatted. However, I’ve had several where the digits are blocks or blanks. That is a real pain when the author is writing about dates and you have no idea of that period of history. Birdgirl is stuffed full of dates, her personal birdcount, plus numbers of birds in the wild, percentage found in the country she was visiting, and a bird who could dive ‘to twenty or thirty metres was actually found at metres!’ I am gasping to know how many that was. More than 100 and less that 1,000, I guess, because commas in numbers usually survived.

But that wasn’t all.

Every combination of the letters ff, fi and fl, were missed.

Have you ever read a book where you’re constantly trying to work out what combo of those letters was missing. I got pretty good by the end, moving through ocial, dened and gured without a pause. Official, defined, and figured. The first time I met y I was disconcerted. But it’s a book about birds so y and ying make flying.

The best one of those was uy. Work it out…

Fortunately I think only one of the bird names was affected. I’d never heard of a Pueg, but then I’d never heard of several of the birds. With this one, I wondered whether it was missing some sort of f, and came up with Puffleg. Ridiculous, I thought, but it has little balls of feathers at the top of its legs, the author kindly explained. I was right! So – uy is fluffy. There were a lot of uy birds in there, including one or two who were the uiest.

Having explained all that, and struggled to get going with it, I will now buy a copy. I want to get all the data and refer to it again. It’s worth it. As you will see…

Birdgirl

by Mya-Rose Craig

‘Birdwatching has never felt like a hobby, or a pastime I can pick up and put down, but a thread running through the pattern of my life, so tightly woven in that there’s no way of pulling it free and leaving the rest of my life intact.’

Meet Mya-Rose – otherwise known as ‘Birdgirl’. Birder, environmentalist, diversity activist. To date she has seen over five thousand different types of bird: half the world’s species. 

Every single bird a treasure. Each sighting a small step in her family journey – a collective moment of joy and stillness amidst her mother’s deepening mental health crisis. And each helping her to find her voice.

Since she was young, she has visited every continent to pursue her passion, seeing first-hand the inequality and reckless destruction we are inflicting on our fragile planet. And the simple, mindful act of looking for birds has made her ever-more determined to campaign for all our survival.

This is her story; a journey defined by her love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies. (goodreads)

My Review

I find it strange that, when so much of Birdgirl is concerned with how to include people outside the dominant ‘white male’ domain of both extreme bird-watching and environmentalism, that the blurb makes no mention of Mya-Rose’s Bangladeshi heritage, because she certainly does! With ‘diversity’ being a ‘big issue’ it’s good to know that people like Mya are welcomed by nature organisations. But it is down to Mya herself that they realised they actually have to change to involve people of different cultural backgrounds. Mya herself uses VME – visual minority ethnic – as a catch-all term, eschewing BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) as she feels it segments the problem incorrectly. I plan to use that term in my writing, too, as I was royally stumped in my description of Hazel when reviewing Murder Most Unladylike.

Like Mya-Rose, birdwatching has always felt part of me. But not like Mya’s family does it! I know people who go everywhere in search of the next bird, who drop everything to see a rarity arrived on a British rock, but that’s not me. You don’t have to be a twitcher to enjoy this book. But it does open your eyes to the immense variety of our avian wildlife, and the threats they are under because of demands on their habitats. Her description of Rwanda is particularly vivid.

I was astounded and enthralled by Mya’s activity and devotion to the cause. Admittedly she was enabled to do some of her community awareness-raising by several dynamic aunties and her parents, but it was her own ideas and passion that got people involved in climate change and wildlife action. All this while trying to keep a low profile among her schoolmates!

mental health

The third strand of this extraordinary memoir is the relationship with her parents, and especially the struggle with her mother’s mental health. Eventually diagnosed as bipolar, Mum’s swings from mania to depression sound horrific, as they undoubtedly were. All the struggles to have mental health recognised and diagnosed, let alone treated, in a country which has swept mental health out of its system to the extent it seems only treated in the community, if you are lucky.

Birds, and birding, came to the rescue. I already know that when I’m birdwatching, I don’t think of anything else. For this family, going birding – twitching- brought them closer together, dropping all the other stresses apart from how to get the next bird on their list. The British Trust for Ornithology knows how important birds are to our mental health, and encouraged many new people to become birders during lockdown, watching and noting the birds from their windows. I hope more young people, and especially those with a VME background, find connecting with birds and their local wildlife an enjoyable and healing experience, as a result of reading Mya-Rose’s book – or her blog, Birdgirl.

I’m not sure that many readers will enjoy the frenetic chase from country to country after different birds, but I did. The scope of Mya-Rose’s attention to the environmental problems she found and the insight into the role of indigenous people in solving climate change prompted me to give this five stars. She’s inspirational.

Book Review | Birdgirl by Mya-Rose Craig 'inspirational' 5 stars #diversity #mentalhealth #climatechange @BirdgirlUK Click To Tweet

Book Review | Birdgirl by Mya-Rose Craig
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