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.
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 >