Conversations with Birds

Available now in paperback!

“Elegant and evocative.”—THE NEW YORK TIMES
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A Firecracker Award Finalist
An Apple “Best Book of the Month”

“Birds are my almanac. They tune me into the seasons, and into myself.”

So begins this lively collection of essays by acclaimed filmmaker and novelist Priyanka Kumar. Growing up at the feet of the Himalayas in northern India, Kumar took for granted her immersion in a lush natural world. After moving to North America as a teenager, she found herself increasingly distanced from more than human life and discouraged by the civilization she saw contributing to its destruction. It was only in her twenties, living in Los Angeles and working on films, that she began to rediscover her place in the landscape—and in the cosmos—by way of watching birds.

Tracing her movements across the American West, this stirring collection of essays brings the avian world richly to life. Kumar’s perspective is not that of a list keeper, counting and cataloguing species. Rather, from the mango-colored western tanager that rescues her from a bout of altitude sickness in Sequoia National Park to ancient sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and from the snowy plovers building shallow nests with bits of shell and grass to the white-breasted nuthatch that regularly visits the apricot tree behind her family’s casita in Santa Fe, for Kumar, birds “become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.”

At a time when climate change, habitat loss, and the reckless use of pesticides are causing widespread extinction of species, Kumar’s reflections on these messengers from our distant past and harbingers of our future offer luminous evidence of her suggestion that “seeds of transformation lie dormant in all of our hearts. Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us.”



Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 0.75 in
13.8 oz

Priyanka Kumar

Priyanka Kumar is the author of Conversations with Birds. Her essays and criticism appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Huffington Post, and High Country News.

Praise and Prizes

  • “In this collection of elegant and evocative essays, a novelist reflects on the beauty and significance of birds, those animals that ‘become a portal to a more vivid, enchanted world.’”

    New York Times
  • “I recently read Priyanka Kumar’s outstanding and profoundly moving book Conversations With Birds… and realized that her prose and personal stories could help people around the world rewild their hearts and souls.”

    Marc Beckoff, Psychology Today
  • “A bird the color of mangoes, a beachcomber with a crescent-moon bill, the owl who controls the dark side of nature: in unforgettable encounters with feathered neighbors like these, Priyanka Kumar charts the life-changing surprise and splendor that birds can bring. They open the heart. They widen the soul. For Kumar, a peripatetic filmmaker and often a stranger in a strange land, birds have revealed connection and created wholeness. How grateful I am for the chance to join this generous author’s lyrical, intimate, and revelatory conversations with birds!”

    Sy Montgomery
    author of The Soul of an Octopus
  • “Kumar wows in this sparkling exploration of her relationship with the birds that serve as her ‘almanac’ and help her tune ‘in to the seasons’ and to herself… . Kumar’s reflections are rendered in elegant prose and are rich with vivid descriptions: ‘At the brink of the water, turquoise with milky sprays, the birds pirouetted and scooted away from the vigorously choppy waves’ … These outstanding reflections will inspire and enlighten, and are perfect for readers of Diane Ackerman.”

    Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • “The essays in Conversations With Birds are rendered in finely wrought prose, steeped in memory and thrumming with endless curiosity about nature.”

    BookPage, starred review
  • “Growing up in India, Priyanka Kumar felt connected to the natural world. It was hard to find that in America as an adult—until she and her husband were invited to go on a bird walk, unlocking that passion once again. Conversations with Birds chronicles just some of Kumar’s most significant avian encounters in the American southwest, ranging across the map from songbirds to birds of prey. These beautiful reflections range from spiritual to breathtaking to concerns of how our rapidly changing climate puts all of life at risk—not just the things with feathers. Gorgeous, stirring, and memorable.”

    Andrew King
    Secret Garden Bookstore, Seattle, WA
  • “Birds have guided Priyanka Kumar through danger, loss, joy, and change. In her moving collection of elegant essays, Conversations with Birds, she recounts her close encounters with cranes and curlews, owls and tanagers, generously sharing their wisdom and her own.”

    Michelle Nijhuis
    author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction
  • “Priyanka Kumar is attuned to the animating power that links her—and you and me—to our fellow creatures. While she has a deep affinity for birds, especially cranes and eagles and owls, she communes as well with bobcat, coyote, fox and their four-legged kin. It is a joy to travel with this versatile artist, often in the company of her husband and their two young daughters, as she roams the American Southwest in search of elusive and majestic wildlife.”

    Scott R. Sanders
    author of The Way of Imagination
  • “Priyanka Kumar’s graceful and unusual work reminds us, again, of everything we lose with each insult to the natural world. Conversations with Birds is a wonderful read!”

    Andrea Barrett
    author of Ship Fever
  • “An eloquent depiction of how birding engenders a deep love of our ecosystems and a more profound understanding of ourselves.”

    Kirkus, starred review
  • “Novelist Kumar takes stock of the beauty she’s found in birds, from northern India to the American West.”

    Publishers Weekly
    “Top Ten Nonfiction Book for Fall 2022”
  • “In the luminous essays of Priyanka Kumar’s Conversations with Birds, birds are a portal to reclaiming childhood connections with nature and the lush, wild landscape of northern India’s remote mountains.”

    Foreword Reviews
  • Conversations With Birds consists of Kumar’s observations, insights, and engagement with birds and the earth in prose that feels like a gentle guide for the reader to nurture their own relationship with nature, whatever it may look like…Kumar’s writing is one of many reminders of what we have to lose, and what we must save.”

    Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
  • “In Conversations with Birds… Priyanka Kumar shares her vast knowledge of birds and wildlife …The author’s word choices and turns of phrase are sometimes downright delightful, enlivening her reportage of birdwatching treks.”

    Pasatiempo Magazine
  • “This isn’t just a book about birds, it’s a look at the joy and curiosity we feel when we build connections with the natural world…. With gorgeously descriptive language, [Kumar] shares her fascinating discoveries about birds and uses them as a gateway to explore topics like climate change, racism, and spirituality. For anyone feeling lost in our increasingly complicated human world, Conversations With Birds is just the compass you need.”

    Apple, “November Best Books of the Month”
  • “In 20 vignettes and essays, Priyanka Kumar lovingly narrates how encounters with birds have molded her outlook on life, family, and nature, bridging the mountains of her childhood in India to her adult wanderings in California and New Mexico. A spark was Kumar’s chance ‘mango-colored bird’ sighting—a Western Tanager—that stirs her to ‘aliveness’ during a near-death experience; her powerful musings take off from there. Her writing is full of beauty but also tells of destruction of the interconnected ecosystems that sustain birds and people. ‘Sometimes it just takes the right bird to awaken us,’ she writes.”

    Audubon, “Six Books for Bird Nerds and Nature Lovers”
  • “Kumar’s effortless and elegant writing style weaves each thread into one seamlessly fashioned piece that keeps readers turning each new page in anticipation of whatever she offers next. Although her focus is primarily on birds, she takes time to acknowledge myriad other creatures as they struggle to maintain their place here on earth.”

    Brian Doyle, Christian Century
  • “Kumar’s illustrative writing style has the power to bring readers along on the journey through arroyos and Georgia O’Keefe’s mountains. The dwindling number of eagles wintering in the wetlands of New Mexico evokes a certain sadness. Kumar emboldens readers to act upon concern for all sentient beings amid widespread ecological demise.”

    Maileen Hamto, San Francisco Book Review
  • “As an amateur birdwatcher and professional bird lover, I appreciate the tenderness and honor with which Priyanka Kumar reflects on the importance of birds in her life. They mark seasons and stages, bear the wounds of climate change and still persevere with power and grace.”

    Karla J. Strand, Ms. Magazine
  • “It is glorious to be in this world with Kumar. It will prompt you to get out and explore wherever you are living.”

    Emily Weber, Hippocampus Magazine
  • Conversations with Birds does something that few other bird books do: passionately writes about that moment when a person becomes a birder… [this book] reveals a bright new voice among the usual bird literature.”

    Mark Lynch, Bird Observer