The Inadvertent Birdwatcher

“You were eerily quiet until age three, but once you started talking, you never stopped.” Mom & Dad

Family, friends, frenemies and visitors. I’ve begun working on a photography book that I’m tentatively calling “The Inadvertent Birdwatcher.” If published, my book would marry my best bird photographs with short essays about my experiences watching and photographing wild birds.

My Instagram feed suggests that I’ve always been a massive fan of birds, but those who know me well know that my early wildlife photography focused on large, charismatic mammals. However, over the course of the last few years, I changed my perspective (literally and metaphorically) while photographing birds in a range of locations, from the windows of my London flat to nature reserves in Africa and the Americas.

To test the waters on my next big project, I’ve decided to share the introduction to The Inadvertent Birdwatcher along with some of my best bird shots. If you like the concept (and photos), let me know. If you don’t, let me know that, too. My friends and family can attest to the fact that I seek out honesty and constructive criticism from all who know me (in real life and online). Feel free to comment on this post directly, or email me at millie5kerr at gmail dot com.

Happy reading (and viewing!).

The Inadvertent Birdwatcher

When I was little I was certain I could fly. At dusk, I stood on the edge of the deck that wrapped around our ranch-style house in San Antonio, peering over the edge with something like determination. I closed my eyes, pictured myself gliding through the air, and dreamed up keys to this universe. Flight was possible, I was sure, but I needed something—a password or position—to prompt my body to soar. I’d take a deep breath, proclaim “Abracadabra,” and leap off the deck, my body landing with a thud on the grass below.

We all long to fly, yet many of us overlook the winged creatures gracing our skies. An equal-opportunity animal-lover, I’ve always liked birds, but my heart long belonged to cats: the small ones in my childhood home and the big ones on the silver screen. The way they move, their wild markings, their solitary nature: feline traits enchant me. So it was only natural that I focused on cats when I entered the field of wildlife conservation ten years ago. Volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia, I fed orphaned lion cubs and bonded with semi-tame cheetahs. Birds of all sizes and varieties formed the musical backdrop to my early African experiences, but I never thought to turn my camera on them.

Later, after taking several African safaris, I began to see birds through a different lens. They were in constant motion and difficult to photograph. Unlike sleeping lions and slow-moving elephants, birds chattered and soared and busied themselves making nests. I fell in love with the lilac-breasted roller and got caught up in the drama of nest-building weavers. When males finish constructing a nest, they invite a female in, hoping she’ll love the home and stay to raise their chicks there. If the nest isn’t up to snuff, she destroys the new build—not out of cruelty but to ensure no weaver eggs are laid in rickety homes unable to support life.

In 2015, I invested in my conservation education by undertaking a master’s in “conservation leadership” at Cambridge. I graduated in the autumn of 2016 and moved to London, a city I previously called home, in early 2017. Although the move made me incredibly happy, it limited my ability to see and photograph exciting, “exotic” animals. At around this time, photography became an obsession, so I had no choice but to focus my Canon DSLR on the animals in my midst (spoiler alert: most are birds). 

What arose out of necessity morphed into a genuine hobby. Was I becoming a birder? I wasn’t sure, but as I became acquainted with garden robins and the swans of Hyde Park, I realized that my love of birds had been there all along. Now, whether on safari in Africa or visiting family in North Carolina, my camera and I seek out the planet’s winged beauties. Though limited, I hope this collection allows you to experience birds as I see them— diverse, intelligent, and charismatic creatures forever in our midst.

Millie Kerr