Leading By Example: Lili Taylor, The Birdsong Project, and Beyond

The award-winning actor and Audubon board member uses her skills and talent to connect people to birds.

It started with a phone call when, in the spring of 2021, Lili Taylor heard from Grammy Award-winning music supervisor Randall Poster asking what he should do with the ample but not nearly complete collection of birdsong-inspired content he had amassed, her answer was simple: “Let’s take it to Audubon.” While she didn't know exactly how things would unfold, she knew with confidence that Poster and Audubon would be able to work together to make the project the best it could be. 

“Just seeing how Audubon responded to that idea, and made it into something, verified to me how Audubon walks the talk,” says Taylor. “They care. They will do something. They take action. That was really affirming to me. Not every organization can do that.” 

By late 2021, Taylor was recording her poetry performance in For the Birds: The Birdsong Project, a five-volume collection of more than 200 pieces of music, poetry performances, and visual art by some of the biggest and brightest in the arts and entertainment industry. Since Poster had first called her all those months prior, the project had grown—and grown in some ways that were hard to believe. Artists like Yoko Ono, Wes Andersen, and Karen O contributed their time and talents to the sprawling and scintillating collection, and the community of bird-lovers taking concerted conservation action had expanded in a truly unprecedented way. The project would be released on all streaming platforms and as a limited-edition 20LP box set, with all proceeds befitting the National Audubon Society. Taylor's role in the project’s genesis is a testament to her demonstrated and steadfast commitment to protecting birds and the places they need. 

As a member serving on the boards of both the National Audubon Society and the American Birding Association, Taylor considers herself an ambassador for birds. For example, Taylor says that whenever she’s working on a TV show or movie, she always has her binoculars handy. And, by the end of the production, everyone knows she’s a birder.  

Though she always loved birds, she didn’t know there were other people like her out there – until Twitter. “Before that, I was too shy,” says Taylor. “I would go on to the [message] boards and like, lurk, but I didn't feel like I could talk to anybody. But then with Twitter, I would hear about a bird in Central Park. And I would go and there would be other birders who are just as interested in the bird as I was. And I didn’t feel weird or anything.” That passion for birds manifests in different ways. Not only has she encouraged others to pay attention to the birds around us – something that The Birdsong Project highlights – but Taylor is also an ardent advocate of native plants. She loves sharing her plant identification knowledge with others, and her homes in Brooklyn and Upstate New York are surrounded with native shrubs and trees. She notes the results are usually pretty fast, with birds flying in to feast soon after their native food source has been set out for them.  

When Taylor talks about her love of birds, she truly means all birds. Common birds, like pigeons, hold a special place in her heart. “Just look at that iridescent blue on the neck. Just for a second. Let’s just look there,” she says. One key reason Taylor considers these birds so important is because of their accessibility to fledgling birders. She is a staunch proponent of introducing members of the younger generation to birds, and has spoken about birds in school classrooms and on kids’ bird walks. She shared a poignant story exemplifying the effect of her actions on Jacob, one of her daughter’s friends who had been impacted by Taylor’s passion for birds. “Years later, his mom texted my neighbor trying to get ahold of me because a Mourning Dove had flown into their glass pane window. Jacob was very upset. And he said, ‘Call Lili, Mom. Call Lili. She’ll know what to do,” she recounts. “And I just thought, what a gorgeous example of the connections, of how it’s not all for naught. What you do impacts.” 

That impact is clear. Lili Taylor is leading by example. And, oftentimes, that can be the most effective thing. Taylor proudly lives out her passion for birds on a daily basis, knowing that even small actions add up to meaningful shifts that make a difference and stick with those within her sphere of influence. “I’m trying to make it everything. So that I’m kind of sharing the good news all the time.”  

With The Birdsong Project, Taylor really relished the idea of being able to connect people to birds in a creative and interpersonal way. Taylor’s contribution to the project – a performance of a poem from Wendell Erdman Berry’s Sabbaths collection - depicts a serene moment immersed in nature, the protagonist watching Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Cedar Waxwings, and American Robins enjoying red cherries while eating the fruit right along with them. The poem’s final phrase - “...making the most of this sweetness against a time where there will be none” can be interpreted as references to both nature’s seasonal shifts and also the changing of our planet’s climate – the latter, underscoring our need to take swift action, now. 

Her hopes for The Birdsong Project? “I think the hope... is that it’s going to get people in the place that it needs to,” she shares. The project meets people where they are, and Taylor believes this is a key facet of why it will continue to be successful. “Because it's authentic, and it has meaning.”