By Evie Carrick
November 25, 2019
Credit: Leila Jeffreys

It’s been a devastating month for the east coast of Australia. Bushfires fueled by wind and long-term drought conditions have spread across Queensland and New South Wales — the latter losing at least 2,400,000 acres so far this year, according to The Guardian.

The latest Climate Council report notes that the bushfires, which are part of the continent’s ecology, have become more frequent and more severe. The results are poor air quality, property damage, and the loss of human life. But the fires aren’t just impacting the people of Australia — animals are being chased from their homes, and that’s something Leila Jeffreys, an Australian bird photographer and advocate, has dedicated her work to.

Her latest exhibit, “High Society” at Olsen Gruin Gallery in New York City, showcases the creatures Jeffreys loves so much. Typically, she works with wild birds — many of whom have been rescued from bushfires — but for this exhibit, she chose to focus on the budgerigar, or parakeet, a species that can still be found in the wild but has been domesticated. Jeffreys’ large-scale portraits zoom in on one or several birds, showing off their eye-catching coloring and distinct personalities.

Credit: Leila Jeffreys
Credit: Leila Jeffreys

“Once you spend time with birds you start to see that there are incredible characters there. Once you start spending time with them you can see that personality and all of that comes out through the portraiture work,” Jeffreys told Travel + Leisure.

In addition to portraits, Jeffreys also captures small flocks perched in a tree. Her exhibit draws parallels between the human world and other, often forgotten societies — like complex bird communities and the distinct personalities found within them.

“When you work with a flock of birds you realize that the flock is like a society,” said Jeffreys.

Credit: Leila Jeffreys
Credit: Leila Jeffreys

“We should celebrate them and love them and protect them. The idea is to get out of our human-obsessive world and look at other societies that live among us.”

The characters and communities she captures speak to the dynamics of a flock and, on a larger scale, to the dynamic between all living things — including bushfires, which bring both destruction and new life. Two pieces in High Society, “Charcoal and Ash” and “Revival,” were inspired by the bushfire cycle. In the former, a flock of shockingly-white parakeets perch on a burnt tree, while in the second, the birds are captured exploding off a living tree, representing renewal.

Credit: Leila Jeffreys

Jeffreys exhibit will be at Olsen Gruin Gallery until Jan. 19, 2020.

To directly help the birds displaced and injured in Australian bushfires, Jeffreys recommends donating to organizations that not only provide critical response, but work on long term projects to save Australia’s land and animals. Here are three she says are especially worth supporting.

Credit: Leila Jeffreys

BirdLife Australia

They send in a fire emergency team as soon as it’s safe to check for birds and they manage habitat refuges that keeps moisture in the soil so the habitats are more fire resistant and helps with regeneration after a fire,” said Jeffreys.

Bush Heritage

“One of the most important ways to mitigate climate change is by reducing land clearing and reforesting the land. Trees are our lungs to the planet and cool the planet. They buy and manage land and partner with Aboriginal people to conserve our natural landscapes and wildlife,” she added.

Taronga Zoo

They are world leaders in what a modern day zoo should be. I’ve worked out of their vet centre where so much injured wildlife is brought in and cared for,” said Jeffreys. “For critical response to the fires they send emergency relief funds to organizations like Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and then work on longer term projects with scientists to rehabilitate land and save vulnerable wildlife.”