As part of the British Trust for Ornithology‘s annual Northern Ireland Birdwatching Conference, I am  offering an interdisciplinary workshop on birds and poetry, with an emphasis on how poetry may help foster an appreciation of birds and their song. 

The event will focus on poets such as Hopkins, Longley, Carson, RS Thomas, Tennyson, and my own work. We will look at poems about birds that reflects the aural qualities of the species’ song. The workshop will include birdsong listening exercises (birdsong recordings and spectrograms) to tune participants into the species’ song. These listening exercises will be interspersed with engaging with the poetry in a way that reinforce participants’ birdsong identification skills; and to also heighten people’s enjoyment and appreciation of the poems. 

This interdisciplinary workshop will take place on 5 November 2022, at the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island, Co Armagh. 


Blurb for this event:

“Mary Montague is a biologist by background with a PhD in birdsong. She is an active volunteer with BTO. Having worked for many years as a teacher in schools, Mary now works as a freelance writer and tutor. Mary is a widely published poet and a regular contributor to The Guardian’s Country Diary. She facilitates creative writing and poetry courses/workshops in local arts and community centres (e.g. The Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast), and also teaches biology-based courses as part of the Open Learning Programme at Queen’s University, Belfast. Mary is interested in the attributes of birds that have made them a perennial subject of poetry. Looking at and listening to birdsong in particular (using song recordings and spectrograms), she will discuss how poetry and other forms of art and literature can contribute to our knowledge and appreciation of birds.”




The importance of birds

For millennia, we have been fascinated by birds. Their ability to fly has excited our envy; the beauty of their plumage resonates in our art; and the music of their song has inspired musicians and poets down the ages. More recently, science and technology have provided breathtaking insight into the capacity and complexity of their lives that can only increase our admiration of and connection to them.

A first step to increasing our enjoyment of wild birds is to get to know them. This can enhance the pleasure of a stroll through the park or a walk in the countryside. Just as we do, birds recognise each other by sight and sound. Being able to name a bird by its voice or song can lend a particular satisfaction to species identification. You hear the song, and make a mental note, ah, there’s a song thrush. The song becomes the casual greeting of an old friend.

As a writer with a science background, I can provide expertise in bird behaviour and ecology, and also in the special inspiration that birds provide to poets and writers. 

Please check back in to see when I may be offering further: 

  • Dawn Chorus events
  • Birdsong identification courses/workshops
  • Evolution of Birds courses
  • Birds and poetry/literature courses/ workshops


I am grateful for the generous donation of photographs: