All the Birds

Koos van Zomeren is one of Holland’s best-loved columnists and nature writers. One of his favourite topics is our feathered friends. Everything he has ever written about birds has now been collected in All the Birds, his magnum opus, an award-winning special edition, beautifully illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Erik van Ommen.

Koos van Zomeren
Original title
Alle vogels

Many birds have featured in Koos van Zomeren’s forty-year output as a nature writer, from everyday pigeons and sparrows, to kingfishers, pelicans and ‘bloody geese’. As he says himself, ‘birds go by, just as birds often go by: in passing, but not unnoticed.’ No other writer describes birds with such care, such insight and such humour.

Koos van Zomeren spots birds wherever he goes in the world — whether it’s the Dutch dunes, the Caucasus mountains or just driving along the motorway. He allows each bird to tell us something about mankind and the world we live in. For Van Zomeren, writing and observing are closely linked; his descriptions are light- footed and never didactic. Here he is, talking about owls: ‘The owl, I would say, is a work of art. Owls look least like chance, most like intention. When it came to owls, someone did his very best.’ And here he is on the golden eagle: ‘Well aware that a golden eagle might be too heavy for the treetop in which it had landed, it decided to move down a few branches. As it clambered earthwards, it deftly used its beak for support and balance, just like a parrot. To think there are people who say golden eagles have no sense of humour.’

The writing is strongly observational, sensory and powerful, always managing to dip below the surface and reveal something more. Comparable to the work of British nature writers John Lewis-Stempel and Jim Crumley, and featuring a combination of vignettes and longer pieces, All the Birds is the ultimate bird book not just for bird lovers but for all lovers of literary non-fiction.

‘Whether he turns his attention to cows, his dog Rekel, trees, or — the leitmotiv in his nature writing — birds, there is always that impressive style, the incessant searching for words for the indescribable. Van Zomeren finds them — the hallmark of great literature from the pen of a gifted writer.’

jury report Jan Wolkers Oeuvre Prize
Koos van Zomeren
A shy, modest man, eager to share his passion for nature, Koos van Zomeren (b. 1946) has finally received the recognition he deserves in the form of the first Jan Wolkers oeuvre prize for the best Dutch nature writing.
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