Ian Harding, who’s played the role of Ezra Fitz on Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars for seven seasons, isn’t just a talented actor: He’s also a writer… and a dedicated bird watcher.
Harding will publish his essay collection, Odd Birds, in May 2017, EW can announce exclusively. Odd Birds will chronicle Harding’s life in Hollywood — including anecdotes from PLL — through the lens of bird watching, making it a fascinating and funny journey for readers of both celebrity memoirs and nature books.
EW is thrilled to reveal both the cover of Odd Birds and an excerpt from one of Harding’s essays, below:
Excerpt from Odd Birds by Ian Harding
We were on the road just as the sun was coming up.
At one point on the drive, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw John drinking a Red Bull. This was after we’d already stopped for coffee. I asked for a sip and took the can away from him. I told him he was hyper enough already. He pulled another can out of his pocket and popped the tab.
He stared at me in the mirror, not breaking eye contact: “Don’t toy with me, Ian,” he said.
We were prepared to spend the morning deep in the woods, but W.G. Jones State Forest caught us by surprise. It really didn’t seem all that remote: the forest was bordered by urban sprawl.
We turned off the highway into a dirt parking lot and hopped out of the car. It felt like we’d just arrived at a farm. There was a large, ramshackle building with aluminum siding. Two men stood leaning against a tractor in work overalls.
Next to the building was a trail, and, not really knowing where else to go, we started walking down it.
A pine warbler flew over our heads and landed on a branch over the trail in front of us. I pulled out my binoculars to get a closer look.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was John. He pointed up —
“Delta Airbus,” he said. The plane was coming in to land.
“Thanks, John,” I said.
We walked farther in. No woodpecker yet.
There was a buzzing in my ears. I slapped myself in the face. Despite having brought enough DEET-based repellant to bring about the End Times for mosquitos throughout the region, I was still getting eaten alive.
There were other sounds, too. We could hear the roar of the highway in the distance. Children were playing and yelling at each other in the backyards of the housing development that bordered the forest just a couple hundred yards away from us. We could see rows of houses through the trees. A jackhammer started up — literally, a jackhammer — and police sirens wailed by.
The forest wasn’t that big, but this tiny strip of land was home to one of the largest groups of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers in Texas. It was unbelievable.
We crept along the trail, binoculars at the ready, stopping at the slightest sound. Joggers and elderly couples from the neighborhood said good morning as they passed by.
I’d had my binoculars pressed to my face for so long that I was beginning to go cross-eyed. And my neck was getting stiff from looking up into the canopy.
Walter looked at his watch. “Let’s keep looking for another hour or so. We’ll find this woodpecker.”
Out in front of us, John was singing an Irish ballad, his voice echoing through the woods. He was clearly bored out of his mind. Walter looked at me and rolled his eyes. John was going to scare away all the birds.
I caught up to John and told him to quiet down. He smiled, shrugged, and stopped singing. He pointed at a tree just off the trail.
“What kind of bird is that?” he asked.
I looked to where he was pointing. A fat, cranky-looking mockingbird was perched on one of the lower branches of a pine about forty feet away from us.
“It’s nothing. Just a mockingbird,” I said.
“Not that one,” he said. “That one, right there.”
He continued to point at the same mockingbird, which had begun to sing loudly, its throat feathers puffing out as it called.
“It’s a mockingbird, John. The same kind we have back in Los Angeles.”
As I spoke, a small, speckled bird with white cheeks flew into the tree and landed on the same branch as the mockingbird, scaring it off. It moved around the limb, grappling onto the bark with its clawed feet.
“That’s the bird I meant,” John said, clearly full of shit.
Three other woodpeckers swooped down into the tree to join the first one.
“Those birds too,” he said. “Those are the ones I meant.”
With his loud, stomping boots and his half-remembered drinking songs, John had accidentally found the woodpecker.
From Odd Birds by Ian Harding. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.