Birds and Words

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Birds And Words
Wed 03Nov
Wed 08Dec
Virtual Event

Birds through Time, History & Culture

Facilitator: Stephen Moss

Event time: Wed 3rd Nov 2021 at 7:00pm - Wed 8th Dec 2021 at 8:30pm

What have birds ever done for us? For millennia, we exploited them for food, created myths and legends around them, and hunted them for ‘sport’. Gradually, though, our relationship with birds changed: we protected them, saved the places where they live, and enjoyed watching them for leisure and recreation. Naturalist and author Stephen Moss traces the complex and fascinating story of our close relationship with birds through time, via the written word and other media.


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In this in-depth course, over four weekly sessions, Stephen delves into the long and fascinating history of our relationship with birds. The story begins in prehistoric times when humanity’s main concern was whether a bird might be edible. Gradually, a more nuanced relationship began to develop, with birds used for predicting the weather, and superstition, religion, myth, and legend. Later, the exploitation of birds led to the rise of the bird protection movement. Meanwhile, the hobby, and in some cases obsession, of birdwatching began to develop; fuelled by – and fuelling – popular wildlife TV programmes and the publishing phenomenon known as ‘new nature writing’. Week-by-week, Stephen traces the progress of the complex and absorbing story of how birds became the center of our lives. Each week Stephen will present video clips from TV series and readings from nature books as examples.

Time & Date

Wednesdays, 7-8:30 pm on Nov 3, 10, 17 – 8th Dec

At a Glance

  • A cultural and social overview of our relationship with birds
  • A journey through time, to understand when, how, and why this relationship developed
  • A close look at the way we relate to birds now, and how this might develop in the future
  • Illustrated with video clips and readings from nature books


Session 1: Where are we Now?

The British are more obsessed with birds than any other nation: we watch them, feed them in our gardens, chase them, save them and watch TV programmes and read books about them. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon, with roots in the social and cultural developments during the past 200 years.

Session 2: How did we get here?

We trace the long journey of our relationship with birds – a journey that can be summed up in a four-word phrase: from Use to Delight. From prehistoric times, when birds were primarily used for food, through the mythologies of ancient and more recent cultures, the conservation and bird protection movement of the late 19th century, the rise of birding in the 20th century, and the focus on environmental issues in the 21st century.

Session 3: Where next?

We may be more obsessed with birds than at any time in our history, but paradoxically birds are in more trouble than ever. How is that affecting the way wildlife filmmakers and nature writers present their work? NB: At the end of this session we’ll set a writing task for session 4.

Session 4:

Workshopping written pieces on our individual relationship with birds.

Practical Information

The course will be held in real time with the tutor via the Zoom platform. Sign up to this platform is free. You will need a laptop, computer, tablet or a smartphone – with an in-built camera and microphone – and a reliable internet connection. We will provide more information and joining instructions in advance of the first session.

Recordings will be available for 30 days after course close as a way to support all participants in receiving the information.

Stephen Moss Hawkwood

Stephen Moss

Stephen Moss is a naturalist, broadcaster and nature writer, based in Somerset, who has travelled to all the world’s seven continents in search of wildlife. He was the founding Series Producer of the BBC series Springwatch, and has written a wide range of books on British birds and other wildlife, including The Accidental Countryside, Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, and biographies of the Robin, the Wren and the Swallow. Stephen teaches a low-residency MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University.

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