Birding to Change the World

Community Room 301 & 302

Presented in partnership with Wild Warner Park.

In this uplifting memoir, a professor and activist shares what birds can teach us about life, social change, and protecting the environment.

Trish O’Kane is an accidental ornithologist. In her nearly two decades writing about justice as an investigative journalist, she'd never paid attention to nature. But then Hurricane Katrina destroyed her New Orleans home, sending her into an emotional tailspin. 

Enter a scrappy cast of feathered characters—first a cardinal, urban parrots, and sparrows, then a catbird, owls, a bittern, and a woodcock—that cheered her up and showed her a new path. Inspired, O’Kane moved to Madison, Wisconsin to pursue an environmental studies PhD. There she became a full-on bird obsessive—logging hours in a stunningly diverse urban park, filling field notebooks with bird doings and dramas, and teaching ornithology to college and middle school kids.

When Warner Park—her daily birdwatching haven—was threatened with development, O’Kane and her neighbors mustered a mighty murmuration of nature-lovers, young and old, to save the birds’ homes. Through their efforts, she learned that once you get outside and look around, you're likely to fall in love with a furred or feathered creature and find a flock of your own.

In Birding to Change the World, O’Kane details the astonishing science of bird life, from migration and parenting to the territorial defense strategies that influenced her own activism. A warm and compelling weave of science and social engagement, this is the story of an improbable band of birdlovers who saved their park. And it is a blueprint for muscular citizenship, powered by joy.

Trish O'Kane


Trish O’Kane is an environmental educator who uses action-research to promote environmental and social justice. Now a senior lecturer at the University of Vermont, she created the Birding to Change the World course and program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while completing her doctorate. Before studying the natural sciences, O’Kane worked as a human and civil rights investigative journalist for a decade in Central America and for five years in the Deep South. She has written for major media, including Time, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times. She lives, birds, writes, and gardens in Burlington, Vermont, along with her husband and their dog.

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Birding to Change the World