Birding on Borrowed Time

ISBN: 1878788418
ISBN 13: 9781878788412
By: Phoebe Snetsinger

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Reader's Thoughts


Jonathan Franzen mentioned Phoebe Snetsinger, who was a neighbor of his growing up, in his book "The Discomfort Zone." I was interested in the outline of her story - a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma when she was 49, a grim prognosis, and then 20 more years of life which she spent birding, largely. This book was my introduction to birding, and I found parts of it very interesting, but it does read more like the journal that it is than like a coherent, fully developed memoir.

Bob Peru

whoa. she saw over 8000 birds. closely.


This book makes me want to bird the world. Snetsinger's approach of studying months in advance and learning about every bird she sees is commendable.

Malin Friess

As many of you may know I am an avid fan of the avifauna (or in common language: Birds for those of you who are less knowledgable about ornithology), so I had great anticipation reading about Phoebe Snetsinger; the best birder who ever lived. In 1965 Pheobe Snetsinger, a stay at home mother, and Swarthmore Graduate (perhaps the most distinguished and famous Swarthmore graduate) at the age of 34 identified her very first bird the Blackburian Warbler near St. Louis Missouri. On Thanksgiving day 1999 Snetsinger was diagnosed with terminal Malignant Melanoma and was given 3 months to live. Refusing to become convalescent, Phoebe decided she wanted to see very bird in the world.Not a light untertaking, considering there are over 10,000 species of Avifuana (as you can tell I like that word). Snetsinger kept copious notes of the birds she had seen: characteristics, color patterns, location; all on 3x5 cards. She was a scupulous student of Ornithology and was precisely prepared for every birding adventure she took.Snetsinger's adventures took her all over the world (Papa New Guinea, Cuba, Cameroon, Alaska, The Artic, Burma, China, Korea, Poland, Russia, and months living in Kenya, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Madagascar. In 1981 Snetsinger had seen 2000 birds, 1982 (3000), 1984 (4000), 1986 (5000), 1989 (6000), 1992 (7000), 1995 (Phoebe became the first Birder in the world to see 8000 birds or "lifers.") Snetsinger was doggedly determined in her quest. She survived a brutal rape and assault in Papa New Guinea, a ship-wreck in Madagascar (she spent hours clinging to edge of a boat), and an earthquake. After recording Bird #8,398 Phoebe was killed instantly in a Bus accident in Madagascar. Phoebe had beaten cancer for 17 years and died as she wanted to go: with binoculars in hand. A few things I admired about Phoebe:1) Because her note taking far surpassed other birders (most just listed new sightings), while Phoebe relisted new sightings in new locations, Snetsinger was able to add to her life list when splitting of new species was made.2) Phoebe was a bird watcher and not a bird listener. She did not count a bird she only heard, and was disappointed the ABA considered identification by ear to be conclusive. 3) Phoebe was courageous; and did not allow her cancer or her rape/assault to victimize her. I'm dont't belive I could react as she did to such devastating circumstances.4) Her love for adventure and traveling only increased with age. I see too many elderly spending way too much time sweeping their curbs. There is more to life when you have good health.5) Phoebe liked the competition. She wouldn't let the British couple beat her to 8000.6) Every bird sighting was always stunning, exquisite, brilliant, terrific. She truly loved her hobby. A few things I questioned about Phoebe:1) Clearly her birding (making multiple international visits per month) became an obscession. Phoebe skipped her own daughter's wedding because she already had a Birding Trip planned to Costa Rica. 2) How did she pay for all this..private charter jets, mulitple international flights, visas, van rentals, safari guides. Just for fun I looked up exclusive birding tours with famous outfits like Birdquest. So you want to go to Ecuador for 9 days ($4650), Birding in Egypt for 9 days ($5900), Birding in Quam for 19 days ($8700), or Birding to the Anartic for 21 days (a whopping $11,500). Phoebe was a German major and her husband was retired military.3) Phoebe passed on her love of birding for her children. Four of her children are bird researchers (her son studies endemic birds in Kawaii).4) I wish Phoebe would have given me more advice on how to identify birds. They all look like LGB's (little gray birds to me). 5 stars. The best go down doing what they love! Kudos for Phoebe going down with binoculars (much like winner of the RAAM Jure ultracylist in the world died when striking a bus head on on a blind corner down a hill). I want to live the last 20 years of my life like Phoebe.How many avifuana have you identified this year?

Steve Collins

This is easily the worst book I have ever read. It is extremely poorly written, organized, and is generally boring. The book is essentially a chronological list of the professionally guided tours Phoebe attended with short bird lists from each. It was a chore to finish.

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