Gone. Forever.

Though the news this week that the Ivory-billed woodpecker, Bachman’s warbler and 21 other species were classified as “extinct” may not have come as a surprise, it was nonetheless disheartening. I pulled several old field guides from my shelf and found these prescient passages: “When man appears, the Ivory-bill disappears. This is not alone due to the destruction of the bird’s haunts but the bird’s shy, retiring nature. Its days are numbered even more surely than are those of the forests it inhabits” (What Bird is That? by Frank Chapman, 1941). “Many of its [Bachman’s warbler] former haunts are gone, and the demand for further lumber and drainage bode ill for what is perhaps the rarest of North American warblers” (Audubon Bird Guide, 1949). As these birds join the ranks of species gone forever, it seems right to not only mark their loss, but to pause for a moment to contemplate their once magnificent presence in a wilder America.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists 683 bird species as endangered or critically endangered.

Tips and Techniques– While the idea of depicting these birds alive was appealing, I decided to convey their loss and the fact that seeing study skins and mounts is the only way we’ll ever know them. Bird skins (stuffed, unmounted dead birds) exist in many natural history collections and present an incredible way to look closely at bird anatomy, feathers, feet, and beaks. If you have the chance to work from skins, take it. What you learn will help you immeasurably when you paint birds from life.

Did you say Italy? Book the castle and join me in Italy for an incredible, immersive experience of art and exploration, May 2-9, 2022. Get details and come along! Winslow Art Center >

15 Comments on “Gone. Forever.

  1. that is interesting, because there is a letter in the Telegraph this weekend, from someone who says that there may well be small pockets of the Woodpeckers in the Florida swamps, which was one of their habitats; and which because of the size of the area may not have been seen

  2. Both beautiful and sad. Love that you pained them from “skins”, new vocabulary for me. Thank you

  3. I admire your beautiful visual record of these lost beings. Thank you.

  4. We are loosing our wild mustangs too. The birds, our horses it’s so sad. You draw them so beautifully! I’ll keep trying to.

  5. Thanks so much for your beautiful painting! I heard this news several days ago, and it breaks my heart. I read that John Fitzpatrick considers the declaration of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker extinct to be premature, and that he and others intend to petition the USFWS during the comment period to take the bird off the extinction list. I believe that some hold out hope that the species might still be in Cuba.

  6. As you said, it wasn’t surprising but it was disheartening. There were all those tantalizing reports of Ivorybills in dense, southern swamps but nothing panned out. It’s cool that you have that old Chapman and the 1949 field guide! And it’s extra cool that you’ll be teaching in Italy next year, wonderful!

    • I’m glad I’ve hung on to those old field guides. And I was recently given a copy of Birds of NYS from 1909. It’s a seriously thick volume but I think I’ll keep it. I’m thrilled to be going to Italy. Now turning my attention to learning Italian and how I might illustrate that.

  7. Thoughtful piece, Jean. When I saw those 2 paintings, I focused immediatedly on the eyes, which were missing. Then I thought about the importance capturing catchlights, which as they say, add life to portraits, be they animal or human. There was no way to capture those catchlights there.

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