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Jasmine Donahaye

Birdsplaining: A Natural History

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Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year 2024, Creative Non-fiction Category

Winner of the 2021 New Welsh Writing Awards: Rheidol Prize for Prose with a Welsh Theme or Setting

'Vivid, quick and iridescent, Birdsplaining is an absolute kingfisher of a book' – Mike Parker

A wren in the house foretells a death, while a tech-loving parrot aids a woman’s recovery. Crows’ misbehaviour suggests how the ‘natural’ order, ranked by men, may be challenged. A blur of bunting above an unassuming bog raises questions about how nature reserves were chosen. Should the oriole be named ‘green’ or golden? The flaws of field guides across decades prove that this is a feminist issue. A buzzard, scavenging a severed ewe’s leg, teaches taboos about curiosity.

Whose poo is the mammal scat uncovered in the attic, and should the swallows make their home inside yours? The nightjar’s churring brings on unease at racism and privilege dividing nature lovers, past and present. The skin of a Palestine sunbird provokes concern at the colonial origins of ornithology. And when a sparrowhawk makes a move on a murmuration, the starlings show how threat – in the shape of flood, climate change or illness – may be faced down.

Jasmine Donahaye is in pursuit of feeling ‘sharply alive’, understanding things on her own terms and undoing old lessons about how to behave. Here, she finally confronts fear: of violence and of the body’s betrayals, daring at last, to ‘get things wrong’.

Roaming across Wales, Scotland and California, she is unapologetically focused on the uniqueness of women’s experience of nature and the constraints placed upon it. Sometimes bristling, always ethical, Birdsplaining upends familiar ways of seeing the natural world.

'Unusual, vivid… remarkably easy-to-read & enjoyable. Doesn’t shy away from taking on difficult subjects… A means for personal reflection.' – BTO News [British Trust for Ornithology]

'An erudite, bold, questing and valid collection of beautifully written essays. Whilst one eye stays focused on the injustices and cruelties of the world, the other gulps in its jewels and preciousness. Moving, stirring, and vital.' – Niall Griffiths

'Superb… by turns moving, funny, illuminating… and… thought-provoking' – Katherine Stansfield

'Upends familiar ways of seeing the natural world ― and in doing so, creates its own ecological niche' – Karen Lloyd, Caught by the River

'A curiosity and passion so unapologetically alive that her words form wings' – Lotte Williams, Nation.Cymru

'Neither human-centred nor its opposite. Although she explores human grief, violence and recovery, Donahaye also has a beautifully conveyed passion for the unromantic aspects of the environment… She bridges the very gap [in nature writing] that she identifies.' – Saskia McCracken, The Welsh Agenda

'Whilst birds might not provide the answer to the meaning of life for Donahaye, they do have a part to play in finding meaning IN life, whether that be through personal symbolism and anecdotal encounters, or in larger questions about power and responsibility.' – Gwales.com

'A fresh way of looking at nature writing, a deeply personal account that embraces its own subjectivity' – Zoe Kramer, Wales Arts Review

'This is a beautiful collection where the nonhuman appears as a close neighbour… [and which] searches for hope and resilience in times of risk.' – Yvonne Reddick, New Welsh Reader


Jasmine Donahaye’s publications include narrative non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and cultural criticism. Her memoir Losing Israel (2015) won the non-fiction category of the Wales Book of the Year, and her story ‘Theft’ was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize in 2016. Her books include a biography of Lily Tobias, The Greatest Need (2015); a cultural study, Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine (2012); and two poetry collections: Self-Portrait as Ruth (2009), which was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year, and Misappropriations (2006), which was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. Her work has appeared in literary journals, and in the New York Times and The Guardian. She was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales in 2017.