When I was about eight years old, I climbed the ancient oak tree in the courtyard of my family’s home and clambered onto the rooftop. There on the wooden shingles I found a small bird, maybe a fledgling that had fallen out of her nest, who seemed a bit dazed. I picked her up and put her in the pocket of my sky-blue dress while I walked around exploring. After a little while, I took her out and held her in the open palms of my hands. She woke up and flew away! I watched her wing her way across the courtyard and disappear into the trees, delighted. Since then, I have loved birds.

Around this time, I remember my father telling me about St. Francis and how he preached to the birds. We lived in Martinez, California, not far from San Francisco. Later, I would realize that St. Francis is, in effect, the patron saint of my homeplace, and I would meditate on his special connection to birds. When I left California to move to Illinois in 2004, my aunt gave me a special triptych made in Rome that depicts St. Francis preaching to the birds and two angels with rainbow wings, one on either side of him, listening invisibly.

In April of 2009, I wrote my first poem about bird-watching, a sonnet called “Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entry on Birds in Northern Illinois.” It was April 22nd when I noticed those wild birds —  redwing blackbirds, robins, geese, mallard ducks, a red cardinal, sparrows, and a blue jay — just a few days before my best friend’s birthday, which is April 27th. She was on my mind not only because of her birth but because of her death:  she had passed away in a car accident on Christmas Day 2008 just four months before. I was only beginning to emerge from the grief. Bird-watching restored a sense of peace to me as I remembered the words of Jesus, who says, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow … consider the birds of the air!”



I wrote several more poems about bird watching, which eventually became The Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries,  a collection of sonnets about birds and the spiritual life published in 2010. My mother, the artist Barbara Holthuis, read it and illustrated it for me. We created an e-chapbook with color illustrations (available as a free download from this website), and my brother, the saxophonist and composer, Andrew Beal, began turning sonnets into songs for our recording project (CD/Mp3s), The Jazz Bird. (We’ve shared the acoustic previews here at the Bird-Watcher’s Diary, and now we can share the whole project!)

In 2011, I published a sequel called Wild Birdsong, a collection of haiku and haibun illustrated with prints by Ando Hiroshige. It is a record of my continuing journey like the ones haiku master Matsuo Basho made of his wanderings through 17th-century Japan. It enabled me to formally express my observations of  the connections between the natural world and the spiritual realm.

In 2012, I completed the last (and longest!) book in my Birdwatcher Trilogy, Jazz Birding, which includes several lovely pictures of birds by the talented photographer, Tom Schull. I finished the book during my transition from living in Wheaton, Illinois to making my new home in Lakewood, Colorado — a move that included a side-trip for a bird-watching expedition to the St. Helena Cloud Rainforest in Costa Rica with my sister, Alice Holthuis, to whom I dedicated the collection. This time, I wrote in free verse for the most part about not only watching, but listening to birds. I was “birding by ear.” This brought me so much joy! Even when I could not see a hidden bird, I could sometimes recognize the bird’s identity in the sound of the song he was singing.

This blog, The Bird-Watcher’s Diary, enables me to keep writing and sharing poems about birds as well as pictures, birdwatching observations, and connections to other bird-watching resources, both scientific and artistic. I hope you enjoy it! For those of you who are interested in reading my BWDE trilogy, there are both ebooks and paperback versions available for purchase. I have also completed a second trilogy, Spiritual Aviary for the Year, Vols. 1, 2, & 3, which is available to read online and to download for free from Issuu. My books Uncaged and Praise and Lament: Psalms for the God of Birds continue the adventure. Just click the links below!



*Ebooks: Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries, Wild Birdsong, and Jazz Birding
*Paperbacks: Bird-Watcher’s Diary Entries, Wild Birdsong, and Jazz Birding
*Spiritual Aviary for the Year: SAY, Vol. I, SAY, Vol, II and SAY, Vol. III
* Uncaged: paperback and online
* Praise and Lament: Psalms for the God of Birds

Thanks for visiting and blessings on your bird-watching adventures!


Jane Beal

p.s. If you would like to learn more about my other work, please feel free to visit https://janebeal.wordpress.com.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Hello Jane,
    I am working on a page of your poetry for the Illinois Audubon. Please email me so that I may send you a proof for your review.


  2. Posted by vanessa on February 13, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    hi Jane. I am not a birdwatcher, but I recently had an amazing birdsong experience in the Seattle area that I thought I would share with birdlovers like yourself: https://thefirst2hours.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/carkeek-park-run-seattle/


  3. Posted by Prashant Nawani on November 12, 2016 at 4:42 am

    Jazz bird is really something! Thank you Jane. 🙂


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