Book studies impact of extinct birds

A new book by Eau Claire, Wis., author and professor B.J. Hollars may have birdhouses on the cover, but he said it isn’t necessarily just a book about birds.

“Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds” (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95) is instead more about the decline in avian species and what that means for our population, Hollars said.

“It’s a book about humans, and it’s a book about the people who tried to save [these birds] and about the people who are still trying to save them,” said Hollars, an assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “And, most importantly, what it means for us that we often struggle to make the right environmental decision that will ensure our own livelihood.”

Hollars said he’s “a budding birder at best,” but the book weaves his own birding experiences along with stories about the fate of the ivory-billed woodpecker and written correspondence between Wisconsin bird expert A.W. Schorger and hermit Francis Zirrer.

“I tell folks it’s kind of part memoir, part research-based journalism,” Hollars said. “It’s my personal story into this world and how it has changed me and made me a better, more aware human. But also it’s the story of these birds who are no longer here with us and what we can do for our own sake to try and preserve them, and ourselves, in the future.”

His adventures while writing the book took Hollars to a passenger pigeon symposium in Madison, Wis., and the Chicago Field Museum, where he worked with a curator and got to hold extinct birds in his hand.

“And that’s part of this book, too,” Hollars said. “How close will we get to species we’ll never see in real life? And the answer for me was physically holding the skins of these birds was as close I could get.”

Emily Miels, Leader- Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)