When Phoebe Snetsinger was diagnosed with melanoma in 1981 and given less than a year to live, she knew how she wanted to spend it: seeking out birds.

Chasing birds all over the world takes money, and Snetsinger had it: She was the daughter of Leo Burnett, who founded a legendary advertising agency that created the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Jolly Green Giant, and the Marlboro Man.

Unhappy as a suburban housewife, occasionally writing dark poems, Phoebe took up birding as a hobby in the 1960s.

Snetsinger became part of a category of extreme birders who don’t just want to observe birds in the wild – they want to see every kind of bird t is, particularly the rare ones, no matter how far they have to go.

A devoted birder can see a few thousand birds just by traveling a lot, but seeing at least 8,000 birds requires another level of dedication.

No matter the tragedy, personal or political, her reaction was always about the birds: She noted that she visited Rwanda in the “Nick of time” before the genocide, and her first question about friends kidnapped in Colombia was what birds they had seen, as a review of Gentile’s book notes.