This year I found three books that I wanted to share with those of you who love birds--and storytellers will find them useful too.
First is a book I remembered from my children's librarian days. By a noted southern folklorist, When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing by Virginia Hamilton is a collection of stories about "Bruh Sparrow, Sis Wren, and their friends." I found a copy recently at a used book store and now it's with my bird book collection. The tales reflect the lively language of the south, they were originally written down by Martha Young, a young woman whose father kept slaves on the plantation where she grew up. Ms. Young wrote the stories in a supposedly "black" dialect; Virginia Hamilton retells them in simple direct language that is funny, touching and truthful.
My favorite: Cardinal and Bruh Deer, the story of how the cardinal got his red color.
Hamilton, Virginia. When Birds Could Talk and Bats Could Sing:The Adventures of Bruh Sparrow, Sis Wren and Their Friends. Blue Sky Press, NY: 1996.
Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition by Peter Tate seemed tailor-made for my purposes. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that in folklore many birds are not necessarily signs of good things to come. And since Tate lives in England, many of the birds included are European varieties. But even with that said, the book is fascinating. The chapter on owls, with their folkloric connections to death in many cultures, reminds the reader that owls were also used in other places as cures. While Hecate, goddess of the underworld, had an owl as her helper, in India the feathers of owls were believed that owl feathers under a baby's pillow was calming. And in Greece the owl as seen as wise and was sacred to goddess Athene. Thirty birds and the folklore surrounding them are included in this slim, fascinating book.
Tate, Peter. Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend and Superstition. Delacorte Press, NY: 2007.
Scott Weidensaul's The Birder's Miscellany does not focus primarily on folklore, but subtitles his book "a fascinating collection of facts, figures, and folklore from the world of birds." The owl has a full page of lore from Shakespeare to Africa. Bird-gods of Egypt, ravens, bird omens both good and bad, water-walking birds, weatherlore connected with birds. Native American stories, Biblical birds and more fill twelve pages of good reading for storytellers, folklorists and birders.
Weidensaul, Scott. The Birder's Miscellany: A Fascinating Collection of Facts, Figures and Folklore from the World of Birds. Simon & Schuster, NY: 1991.