Lili Taylor Wants You to Listen and Connect With the Birds Around You

Bird expert David Jeffrey Ringer spoke with actor and Audubon board member Lili Taylor about her love of birds, the actions she takes to protect them, and her involvement with The Birdsong Project.
A headshot of Lili Taylor

Critically acclaimed actor Lili Taylor loves birds. She's not only a passionate conservationist, she’s also an Audubon board member who supports our work to protect birds and the places they need.

Taylor is also featured on an upcoming volume of “For the Birds: The Birdsong Project”—an unprecedented outpouring of creativity from more than 200 of the biggest names in entertainment that raises awareness about the threats birds face and supports Audubon's work.

To discover more about her love of birds, the actions she takes to protect them, and her involvement with The Birdsong Project, bird expert David Jeffrey Ringer chatted with Taylor on Instagram. You can watch the entire interview here. A curated version of that interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, is included below.

Ringer: How did you grow interested in the world of birds and nature?

Taylor: You know, I always loved birds. But I didn't know that there were people like me [who also loved birds] out there. I didn't know what I could do with my love for birds. Funny enough, I think it was Twitter that opened the world of birders to me, and Twitter is so great for birding. All these people were saying they were seeing a bird—I think it was the Yellow-breasted Chat in Central Park years ago. And I went, and I saw there were people like me. Then I [went to] my first bird festival and then—boom!  

R: You played a key role in this wonderful new initiative called The Birdsong Project. Music has been coming out all year and Volume V is coming out in September. What are you hoping people will take away from this year of music and poetry celebrating birds?

T: You know, I hope that you open up your senses and let it come in and turn off your phone for a second and just listen and kind of connect into something bigger than you. I think that's always good for us when we can connect to something that's a little bit deeper. Listening is really important. And that's another thing that's cool about getting to know birds—just starting to learn how to listen.

R: The Wendell Berry poem that you perform on Volume V of The Birdsong Project mentions Red-headed Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, robins, and other species in a cherry tree. It makes me think of your advocacy for native plants that provide food and shelter for birds. Tell us about the native plants around your homes in upstate New York and Brooklyn.

T: Funny enough, I just planted a cherry tree last year. I planted about 18 trees last summer—all native—and there's a lot going on up here. All you need to do is a little bit and a lot can happen with birds, and that's what's really cool and encouraging. I saw that in my little patch in Brooklyn, near Carroll Gardens. I planted all natives, and the good news is that [the birds] eat the seed; they eat the berries.  

I've had over 20 [bird] species in Brooklyn, which I think is a pretty good number. I've got hummingbirds; I’ve had some warblers pass through—Red-winged Blackbirds, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, and cardinals are the main neighborhood [birds] coming around. But a lot of migrants pass through, and I love being able to supply their fuel for their journeys.

R: Fall migration is underway now. Are there specific birds you look forward to seeing every fall?

T: Well, of course, the hawk migration is pretty great. There's that great Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania—if anybody wants to take an adventure and go to Hawk Mountain, it's fantastic. In New York, I love going up to the top of the Empire State Building and looking at the birds migrating. I guess for me, it's the act of migrating that I love watching. But I love when the Dark-eyed Junco comes. For me, it's a real harbinger that [is] like, "Okay, winter is coming."

R: You’re currently appearing in a TV show called Outer Range. Your and Josh Brolin’s characters in the show are a married ranching couple. So you play someone who is very close to nature and the land. Tell us more about the show and your character in it.

T: Outer Range is great. It's a wild kind of western sci-fi, and kind of a little bit of everything. It’s a little wild—it'll take you places, but just keep on the ride because it's really visceral, and I just love it...Audubon's doing a lot of great work with ranchers, and I would love to get that in the second season. I would love to have Cecilia, my character, talk to someone about how to ranch in a way that can work with birds.

R: What’s next for you during this fall?

T: I've got fall migration. I've got the World Trade Center [9/11 Tribute in Light monitoring], [where I] make sure no birds get caught. I try to do that every fall if I can. The birds get disoriented by those lights…so New York City Audubon set up this monitoring situation. A bunch of volunteers go on this roof right where the lights are, and we look up. And when we count more than 1,000 birds fluttering in the lights…we show the people who turn on and off the lights, and then they turn the lights off for 20 minutes to let the birds get away and escape. They let us do it, and it's a gift.