On Taking Flight

British Bangladeshi environmentalist Mya-Rose Craig reflects on all things flying

By Jen Rose Smith

April 9, 2023


British Bangladeshi environmentalist Mya-Rose Craig recounts her life bird-by-bird in Birdgirl: Looking to the Skies in Search of a Better Future (Celadon Books, 2023), a memoir that takes flight when her parents, Helena and Chris Craig, travel with nine-day-old Mya-Rose to a Cornish archipelago. What follows is a series of family birdwatching journeys on every continent. The Craigs alight for grand—sometimes grueling—quests to train their scopes on hummingbirds, sparrow hawks, and harpy eagles.

Peering through Australian rainforest at age 11 in 2013, Craig spotted the glossy gold and black of a regent bowerbird, checking off number 3,000 on a species list begun at age three. There's more to her family's avid list-making than birds: Craig excerpts a spreadsheet that documents Helena's struggles with mental illness and her eventual severe bipolar disorder diagnosis. Fueling some of the globe-trotting was the wish that new horizons might soothe Helena's devastating symptoms; the book, while hopeful throughout, doesn't flinch from hard times.

Amid tales of brilliant plumage in faraway lands, Craig may be the rarest bird of all. Even as she struggled to cope with her mother's illness, in 2014 she started a blog, Birdgirl, that established her leadership role in birding circles and the broader environmental movement. Craig rarely found other people of color at birding events, so she founded the nonprofit Black2Nature to provide opportunities for fellow children of color to engage with the natural world. She writes, "Birdwatching has never felt like a hobby . . . but a thread running through the pattern of my life, so tightly woven that there's no way of pulling it free and leaving the rest of my life intact." Such lucidity would be singular at any age. At 20, Craig crafted a story that will leave many readers eager for her next chapter.