Hide and Seek

In springtime, birds tuck their nests into dense foliage and tangled vines. In fall, I try to find as many nests as I can. It is a game of hide and seek in which the birds always win. Still, I walk in woods and fields and along the roadside, taking new paths, looking from new angles, scanning the trees. I count every nest as a victory; a way to understand the place where I live and the creatures that inhabit it. Alas, it is no easy task. Though I think I am paying attention, here are two recent finds that prove otherwise. I walked past these two nests several times a week all summer and fall without seeing a thing.

Tips and Techniques– Most birds—and their eggs, feathers, and nests—are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The law ensures the sustainability of populations of all protected migratory bird species. Unless you have a permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, you should not collect these things. Instead, sketch them where you find them, take a photo, and leave them in place. In addition, seek out nature centers and natural history museums that have a permit. Their collections are invaluable to educators, researchers, students, and artists.

16 Comments on “Hide and Seek

  1. Wondering…do you draw first then add washes or a combination?
    Sometimes I begin and end with ink line drawings. At other times I begin with light washes and move to line….back and forth.
    I enjoy the descriptions that you add.
    Your work is a treat to my eyes. Thank you.

    • Hi Bernadette- I draw first with a Micron 02 pen, then added watercolor. In this case, I wanted to establish the main values in pen before painting. I laid down the first washes outside and finished later inside.

  2. Jean…I have been following your nature journal postings for a long while. And I SO love what you do! Every entry is a treasure…I consider them gifts of inspiration! Especially enjoyed this latest entry with these nests…& how you simplify such a complicated subject. Also love your random notations like the political note in this one! Thank you for sharing your remarkable talent and unique perspective…looking forward to participating in your “The Art of the Bird” class, come January 2021!

    • Hi Suzanne– Thank you! I’m glad you’ll be in the Art of the Bird class. I’m really excited about it. The first session starts this week, so you’ll likely see more nests in the coming weeks. Glad you spied the political note– I should have added an exclamation mark! Cheers, Jean

  3. Jean,
    I love these and I love nests! How do you identify what bird made them? Any resources you use that are helpful?
    I always love your sketches/paintings…thanks so much for sharing your love of God’s creation!

    • Hi Barbara- Identifying them is really a process of elimination, practice, field work, and research. Being out and about and noting what bird species are in a given area helps to narrow the possibilities when you later find a nest. If you’re not familiar with the birds where you find a nest, use habitat as your first key. Then note the size, structure, materials, and placement of the nest, as these will all be important when you start to look up different possibilities. I have spent time studying nests in museum and nature center collections, too, so that helps because sometimes I make a mental match with something I’ve seen before. For research, Cornell’s All About Birds is a great online source; there are field guides to nests that are also helpful. And even with all that, I often simply can’t identify a nest with certainty. It’s a challenging pursuit!

  4. I was out birding yesterday, and when I found a few nests, I thought of you and took pictures. Tried to draw them last night. Complicated! I’m looking forward to your class about this!

  5. Such a great reminder to leave nests where you find them! Thanks, Patricia Lowry

  6. I never knew of it till years later. I had already collected a few then someone brought it to my attention. But by then it was too late. Thank you for the reminders. Of course I don’t collect them now. That was many years ago. Sketches are more permanent anyway. Your nest renditions are beautiful.

    • As I mentioned is a prior comment, most nests disintegrated over the winter and are not used again. And most people don’t realize that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was critical to saving birds from large scale “taking” for feathers, eggs, and birds. A curious child or adult picking up a feather isn’t going to do harm, but it’s good to learn that birds are protected and to respect that. I like the idea of “collecting on paper.”

  7. Hi, Jean – I found your work recently after joining the Nature Journal Club and I am just blown away by the beauty and quality.. Such wonderful work and thank you for being so generous with tips in your blog. I am inspired to work harder with my nature sketchbook. I can see lots of ideas for making my page layout more interesting. I use Stillman & Birn sketchbooks, too and Strathmore 500 series multi media paper ones also. Thank you so much for all the work you put into this blog. Beautiful and informative.

    • I have! In fact, there is one high up in an oak tree in my yard that was used two years ago. I think a pair nested here this year, too, but I haven’t found the nest…yet.

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