Spirits of the Air
Birds and American Indians in the South

Shepard Krech III

Birds and Indians in America's South


"Shepard Krech's insightful research into historical sources and his deep understanding of birds combine to entrance the reader with scientific insights, Native knowledge, and marvelous descriptions of the American South. This book brings a fresh and fascinating approach to environmental and ornithological history and will be of great interest to historians, indigenous peoples, and birders alike."
—Carolyn Merchant, author of American Environmental History: An Introduction

"What a wonderful surprise this book is! With fabulous illustrations and insightful text, Spirits of the Air explores the deep connections between Native Americans of the South and the rich bird life that was so much a part of their environment and lives. For birders, the book provides a thought-provoking opportunity to move beyond identification and ponder our deeper and more universal relationship to these beautiful creatures that we so love and seek out."
—Don and Lillian Stokes, authors of Stokes Field Guide to Birds

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Before the massive environmental change wrought by the European colonization of the South, hundreds of species of birds filled the region's flyways in immeasurable numbers. Before disease, war, and displacement altered the South's earliest human landscape, Native Americans hunted and ate birds and made tools and weapons from their beaks, bones, and talons. More significant to Shepard Krech III, Indians adorned themselves with feathers, invoked avian powers in ceremonies and dances, and incorporated bird imagery on pottery, carvings, and jewelry.

Krech, a renowned authority on Native American interactions with nature, reveals as never before the omnipresence of birds in Native American life. From the time of the earliest known renderings of winged creatures in stone and earthworks through the nineteenth century, when Native southerners took part in decimating bird species with highly valued, fashionable plumage, Spirits of the Air examines the complex and changeable influences of birds on the Native American worldview.

We learn of birds for which places and people were named; birds common in iconography and oral traditions; birds important in ritual and healing; and birds feared for their links to witches and other malevolent forces. Still other birds had no meaning for Native Americans. Krech shows us these invisible animals too, enriching our understanding of both the Indian-bird dynamic and the incredible diversity of winged life once found in the South. A crowning work drawing on Krech's distinguished career in anthropology and natural history, Spirits of the Air recovers vanished worlds and shows us our own anew.

Environmental History and the American South

A Wormsloe Foundation Publication

Trim size: 8 x 11


List price: $46.95

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Shepard Krech III is a professor of anthropology and director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. He is a past president of the American Society for Ethnohistory and has been a fellow and trustee of the National Humanities Center. His many books include The Ecological Indian and Encyclopedia of World Environmental History.