Tiny Aviary New Year's Giveaway


December 28, 2011

2011 is wrapping up. Amongst other things that means I am getting ready for my annual trip to the wilds of Wisconsin's driftless region to stay in a cozy farm cottage with beloved friends and family.  It will be my daughter's first experience of this little tradition and I am counting the minutes!

Another tradition is that of first bird sighted on New Year's Day. The first bird I see 
New Year's Day I will make a painting of it, and that painting will be offered up in a little giveaway here on Tiny Aviary. If you wish to be included in the drawing, please leave a comment on this post. You do not need to leave your full name unless your google/blogger identity is very common like "John". Tutto capite, amici?

Ok, I wish you health, happiness and warmth.  Be kind to each other and the critters with which we share this planet. I'll be back to check on you peeps in 2012.

I will NOT be giving away this sublime bird-of-paradise print, but this one and others can be viewed here.

Thanks to my lovely friend Aaron for pointing them out. 

xo Diana

Vermilion Flycatcher - Pyrocephalus rubrinus


December 20, 2011

Fellow bird nut, artist and friend Gennine Zlatkis of Gennine's Art Blog fame, has been posting amazing photos recently of Vermilion Flycatchers she has been spotting around her home in Mexico. The males are so brightly colored, they almost don't seem real. Anyway, I kept seeing images of these crimson fellows on Geninne's blog, and eventually couldn't resist the urge to do a painting of one!

In addition to being quite common in Mexico, Pyrocephalus rubrinus can be seen here in the States in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. They prefer riparian habitat, and thus often spotted in woodland habitats along streams and rivers. Like other flycatcher species, Vermilions forage by sitting and waiting on exposed perches, and then employ a number of aerial acrobatics to pick off various arthropods out of the air.

If you have been living under a stone, and haven't seen Geninne's blog or her art yet, get your hiney over there. It's one of my favorites, as Geninne is amazingly talented, and truly generous in sharing her work and home.

Carolina Parakeet - Conuropsis carolinensis


December 19, 2011

It's a busy time right now, with the holidays and all, and I am sure that you can relate. I wasn't able to go in to the museum last week due to a bad cold, and have been catching up on various illustration work. I don't have much right now but can share some more photos from the collections.

The two photos above are of a Carolina Parakeet Conuropsis carolinensis specimen from the Field's collection. As you can see from the tags it's from 1893. The Carolina Parakeet was extinct in the wild by 1905. When I looked at this specimen it's roughly the size of a Monk Parakeet. Monks, also known as Quaker Parrots, are a species of parrot that have been introduced in the wild here. They have established several feral populations in various U.S. cities like Chicago and Austin. I've seen Monks in both of those cities, and every time I spot one, I think of the Carolina even though they are two very different species of parrot.

Monks are from the genus Myiopsitta and is native to South America. Conuropsis carolinensis is from the genus Conuropsis and was native to North America. Carolinas could be found from the Ohio Valley down to the Gulf of Mexico. They needed old growth forests as they were tree cavity nesters, and they feasted on plants such as thistle and cockleburs. They also loved to dine on fruit and corn. For this they were considered an agricultural pest, and were killed by the thousands by farmers.

The next time you take a hike and come home with cockleburs stuck to your clothing, or the next time you have to brush them out of your dog's fur, give a thought to what was our only indigenous parrot here in the States.



December 15, 2011

Yooohoooo... Holiday Sale over at my Big Cartel shop! Save 20% off of your entire order when you use this coupon code:


Sale ends tomorrow at 8PM

Winter Birds


December 13, 2011

I am not able to get out and birdwatch a whole lot these days, but I have a couple of feeders set up in the backyard. I have a suet, then one feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds, and another with thistle seed. It is true that many of our feathered friends head south for the winter, but there are quite a bit that stick around and tough it out.

I've been wanting to do a painting of all of the birds that frequent my backyard in winter. The Northern Cardinals, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, and Dark-eyed Juncos are the regulars. Less frequent are the nuthatches and creepers, but every once in a while they swing by. It's nice to be able to sit and look out the window identify our avian visitors. In the starkness of winter, they're a very welcome sight. I can't believe my daughter was born almost a year ago. She likes to look out of the window and in to our backyard at the flurry of activity at the feeder. I look forward to the day when she can identify everything she sees there, but for now "buh buh buh" will do.

This painting is available in my shop.

Flinchy Sale


December 06, 2011

Here's a shameless plug for Flinchy, the t-shirt company I create designs for. We're cleaning house and having a huge sale: $15 on all t-shirts. So if you have been wanting to pick up a Darwin's Finches for yourself or your sweetie for the holidays, here's a great chance. The other design pictured here is my 'Worrypup'. Modeled by Chicago artist Anders Nilsen.

Nuttall Ornithological Club


December 05, 2011

Saw this in the NYT recently. Lovely article on the Nuttall Ornithological Club with a couple of great specimen photos. It warms my cold, crunchy heart to read about that 12 year old attending a meeting.

Hope you all had a great weekend. The above image is from the Field Museum collections. I took it last week. I need to confirm the species, but aren't they spectacular? Something to brighten up a grey Monday.

Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise. Paradisaea raggiana


December 01, 2011

I went in to the Field Museum today to work in the prep lab, and afterwards nosed around the bird collections. This is a very old skin of a Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisaea raggiana.) It's of the male's tail feathers, which are spectacular, of course. They belong to the Paradisaeidae family, which also includes the Lesser and Greater Bird-of-paradise, and are native to New Guinea. I took a lot of specimen photos and will post more next week. Have a lovely weekend!

Taxidermy and Museum Collections


November 29, 2011

The photo above is by Klaus Pichler. It's from a NYT article that was pointed out to me recently, and can be viewed here. The photos were taken by Pichler behind the scenes at Vienna's Museum of Natural History. I love the photos, of course, and identify with Pichler in the sense that we are both artists snooping around the dark corners of a natural history museum. But the photos bring up other issues about museums, and more specifically, taxidermy specimens.

As I have been posting more photos recently of my work at the museum, and of study skins from the collections, I have been feeling the need to address some of the conflicts these objects represent. I'll begin by saying that I find the study skins and mounted specimens of the Field's collections (and other natural history museums) incredibly beautiful. They are beautiful as art objects, for their skilled craftsmanship, and as animals that I would otherwise never have the opportunity to study so closely. Working with birds that I make in to study skins and the collections' specimens is a privilege I try never to take for granted. I respect that these were all living creatures.

This brings me to my next point which is that while as beautiful, and as inspiring I find the specimens, they are essentially, well...dead animals. As one begins to spends more time around them, and as Pichler points out in the NYT article, you begin to wonder: where did they come from? How were they obtained, and why are so many needed? The answers to these can be pretty complicated, and would merit a much longer post than the already lengthy one I have here. For example, in my previous post about the Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers, few would miss the irony that museums have drawers full of species like the Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers, Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets, but that none of these exist in the wild today. In the case of the Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeets, they have been extinct for close to a century.

While I acknowledge there was a time in museum's histories where collecting specimens went unchecked, and was often another colonialist stab of pillaging another country's natural resources, museum collecting was not the reason why a particular species went extinct. In the cases of Imperial and Ivory-billed (if they are indeed extinct) it is mainly due to habitat loss. The Passenger Pigeon went extinct due to massive market hunting that slaughtered birds by the millions. Carolina Parakeets were seen as a crop pest, as well as hunted for their beautiful feathers for womens' hats. As someone that will never, ever see a live Passenger Pigeon, I look at a specimen of it as a symbol of human greed, a valuable scientific research tool, a piece of American and ecological history, as well as a beautiful animal and object. Also, not least of which, it is a tool to educate as to why a species as once numerous as Ectopistes migratorius went extinct in the first place, and as of evidence of its existence.

The specimens I mentioned above are very old, as most would have been collected around the late 19th century. But museums continue to collect for research, and in my case, I work with some of those specimens. The birds I work on die as the result of colliding with downtown buildings, or exhaustion from being confused by skyscraper lights. These birds are collected by volunteers, brought to the museum, logged in, made in to specimens that are used for research, and thus help our understanding as to how urban areas are affecting these migrating species.

That is one way museums, and the Field in particular, obtain current specimens. The other is that they will occasionally go on collecting expeditions to other countries. While these expeditions are closely monitored and controlled, collecting means hunting. There is a lot to make one uncomfortable, and I know people make the distinction between a bird that dies via colliding with a building in Chicago or New York, and one that is caught in a mist net in Africa; one was an "accident" and one a deliberate kill. Both are used for research, and research that will directly benefit the survival of a particular species. I have to tread carefully here, as I am not a scientist, obviously, and not really qualified to justify all of this fully. But as someone that has worked with the specimens, the biologists, and has seen the results from data gleaned from these specimens has had on helping to preserve a species and the environment, I would say the positive outweighs the negative.

I'll leave it at that for now. Trust me, I could go on. My mind is racing with thoughts on the nature of collecting, colonialism, animal rights, factory farming, poaching, vegetarianism. Yikes. Thanks for indulging the rambly-ness. If I am to continue posting photos of specimens and the work I do at the Field Museum, I wanted to talk about some of the issues I have with it.

Imperial Woodpecker - Part II


November 17, 2011

As I had promised, here are some woodpecker specimens from the Field Museum collections. I went in yesterday to work my usual post in the prep lab making study skins. Dave Willard (collections manager) kindly assisted in locating the Imperial and Ivory-billed study skins that you see above. Both specimens are very old, and both species are most likely extinct at this point. The woodpecker on the right is an Imperial, and on the left is the Ivory-billed; both are very large birds. The Ivory-billed is about the size of a very large crow, to give you some idea. Both birds belong to the genus Campephilus. They needed large swaths of old growth habitat with the Imperial occupying montane pine forests of Mexico, and the Ivory-billed living in pinewood and tupelo swamps of the southern United States. The Ivory-billed is often confused with the Pileated Woodpecker, a similar looking species. Although sharing similar habitat and looks, the Pileated belongs to the genus Dryocopus.
The Pileated is quite common in areas of older forest growth, while the Ivory-billed is a ghost that most likely just haunts our collective human psyche rather than the swamplands it used to inhabit.

Imperial Woodpecker - Campephilus imperialis


November 15, 2011

Last week Science Friday posted a video of an Imperial Woodpecker. You can watch the video and listen to the interview with SF video editor Flora Lichtman here. I plan on volunteering at the Field Museum on Thursday and hope to look up and photograph one of their specimens there, in the meantime I found this image on Wikipedia. Imperials (native to Mexico) are closely related to our Ivory-billed woodpeckers, which is also most likely extinct. Ivory-billed are large, but the Imperials are massive. They would average 2 feet from head to tail. Anyway, check out the video on SF. It's truly amazing, but a little sad. As ornithologist and writer Tim Gallagher said, it's like seeing a ghost.



November 14, 2011

Hello - Good Monday to you. I love natural history books (duh), and have a very modest collection. In these cases I do judge a book by its cover. I bought the egg collecting book on Ebay for its gorgeous chromolithograph plates, and got The Real Book about Amazing Birds in trade for some books I was selling to a local used bookstore. I love the cover and the endpapers. It was published in 1955.

California Quails


November 11, 2011

I posted a couple of photos of this in process a while back, so here is the completed commission. Have a lovely weekend!

Robins, Robin, Robins


November 10, 2011

In the previous post, there's an image of a painting that was the first one I did for this particular job, but decided to go with this one instead. Both paintings are of an American Robin - Turdus migratorius. T. Migratorius belongs to Turdidae family, which also includes Wood and Hermit thrushes.

This fellow, however, is a European Robin Erithacus rubecula. European Robins are not related to T. migratorius, and belong to an entirely different family: Muscicapidae. Europeans settlers in N. America laid eyes on T. migratorius, and perhaps getting a pang of homesickness for their similarly red-breasted feathered friends at home, bestowed upon it the name of robin.

Little collage painting of Erithacus rubecula is in the store.

American Robin Gouache Painting


November 09, 2011

I was working on a commissioned painting of an American Robin today and yesterday. This first one I completed, I didn't think was appropriate for the taste of the person that commissioned it, so I made different painting and am offering this one for sale in my shop HERE.

I was in Austin, TX all last week, and so am catching up with work. I'll be posting more soon. : )

Morran of the Forest


October 31, 2011

Ok, this is a bit of a stretch subject matter-wise for this blog, but I'll post it anyway. Recently illustrator and artist, Camilla Engman, had an open call for submissions to create a portrait of her beloved dog, Morran. I am an avid fan of Camilla's work (and Morran), so I had to do one. Camilla resides in Gothenburg, Sweden. She and Morran often find themselves hiking in the lush, mossy, be-ferned woods of the Swedish countryside.

Now available here.

Color and Pattern


October 28, 2011

Browsing some of my Field Museum photos tonight, and came across these two. I think they are from the Tibetan collections. I love the colors and patterns. Traditional Tibetan clothing seems to have a lot of red and turquoise; a color combination I love. Have a lovely weekend

Maide Weide


October 27, 2011

I love this woman. Look at her happily making models of placoderms and jawless fishes. Isn't she the awesomest? I pass by this display of Maide Weide's work in the hallway on the third floor of the Field Museum every time I go in to work in the bird lab. Apparently Weide took over for this guy. She made paintings and models, and you can still see some of her handiwork in the public collections.

Evening and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks


October 26, 2011

This fall, I've worked on several of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the Field Museum lab. I've only seen a grosbeak once in the field, and it was a beautiful male Rose-breasted at my backyard feeder. I'm pretty sure I have never seen an Evening in the field. Even though these two species share the name of "grosbeak" and certainly share some similar physical traits, they belong to two different families. Rose-breasted belongs to the Cardinalidae family, and Evening to Fringillidae. Cardinalidae includes the ubiquitous Northern Cardinals. The species of Fringillidae, on the other hand, are considered true finches and include species like the lovely Chaffinch. Rose-breasted are known for their very melodic, robin-like songs, while Evening Grosbeaks are more quiet and secretive; even during courtship.

Great-crested Flycatcher - Myiarchus crinitus


October 24, 2011

Last month at the Field Museum, I was able to work on a Myiarchus crinitus. You can read about that here. I finally got around to making a painting of it. Great-crested Flycatchers are known to be rather agressive (spirited?) birds, that have benefited from the current fragmentation of our suburban landscapes. They prefer the wooded edge of an open lot to the deep woods. M. crinitus are secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they will often nest in an abandoned woodpecker hole. They're quite beautiful too with their lemony yellow breast, and touches of burnt sienna in the wings.

This painting is available in the store.

Tiny Aviary on Twitter


Hello. Happy Monday. Seriously.

Pigs are flying, so I finally felt compelled to get a Twitter account.

If you'd like to join me:

Follow tinyaviary on Twitter

New Flinchy T-shirt Designs: Darwin's Finches


October 20, 2011

Hello there! A while back I told you about the t-shirt company that I am involved in: Flinchy. I am one of 3 artists. The other 2 very talented fellers being Jay Ryan and Tom Stack. We've got some new designs up in the store, including my Darwin's Finches. Available HERE, and modeled above by the very kind Mr. Andrew Bird.

Commission: California Quails


October 18, 2011

I've been working on a commissioned painting this week, and the request was for California Quail. The male is pretty close to being finished. The female's plumage has less blue and contrast than the male's, but it's still really striking. I love their little question mark feathers on top of their heads.

Kloempken Prairie


October 13, 2011

A couple of evenings ago I was able to get out for a solo hike at a local forest preserve. I chose Kloempken prairie and Carle Woods. For those of you in the Chicago area, these are preserves right near the Oakton Community College campus off of Golf Road. The woods and prairie have been undergoing restoration since the 90s, I believe, and benefit from controlled burning on a seasonal basis. There's no trail system (yet), and access is from an Oakton college parking lot. Due to the controlled burns, the woods were impressively free of brush and invasive plants. Almost immediately upon entering the forest, I saw a group of 5 deer, one of which was a mature stag. Reading about the preserve, there are supposedly oak trees over 200 years old, and the place definitely had the feel of the ancient about it. The only real bummer was the overwhelming noise pollution from Golf Road and 294. The constant drone of cars filled the area, and made it difficult to hear the birds at times. That said, I heard and spotted a couple of Red-bellied woodpeckers. I occasionally came across patches of ferns. The ferns were often ghostly white; really beautiful. Anyway, I made these 3 gouache paintings inspired by my visit there. I've just listed them to my STORE too.

Patch of leaf litter and white ferns in Carle Woods, IL.

White-tailed deer hiding behind giant felled oak in Carle Woods.

Red-bellied Woodpecker snooping around tree branch.

Black Squirrel


October 10, 2011

This is my second gouache painting. I'm really liking the medium. I've been looking at a lot of early American folkart recently, and love some of the flatness, and just plain weirdness of some of the imagery. Scale was often really skewed; whether this was intentional or not isn't always clear either. Anyway, I made this image of a black squirrel with that aesthetic in mind.

We have some black squirrels around here, which are in fact just a melanistic variation of grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis.) I love them, and have always wanted to do a painting of them. Their dark fur is almost mink-like. A biologist at the Field Museum told me they tend to do better in suburban areas, rather than more rural or wild areas. This is because due to their darker fur, they are usually more easily detected by predators. Suburban areas will have lower predator populations, giving these fellows a better chance at beating the odds.

Text on painting: He was the only one of his kind in those parts, towering over the land. He sang to release the leaves from the trees. And with that, autumn arrived with its sweet chill.

This painting is available in the STORE.

The Magic Hedge


Hello Patient Readers. It's been a very busy couple of weeks. I was wrapping up a very large illustration job, and so much of my time has been spent huddled over my drawing table. Although I haven't been able to get to the Field for a bit to volunteer, or work on my own painting, I did get to go birdwatching for the first time with my daughter. Isabel is only 9 months old, but she loves being outdoors. We met our friend Renate at The Magic Hedge.

The Magic Hedge is a birding spot I have known about for years, but have never been. It's a wonderful little preserve on the lakeshore by Montrose Harbor. It's well known as a birding hot spot, so Renate and I were eager to check it out. It was beautiful. It was large and dense enough that most of the time while we hiked its trails, we could neither see or hear the buzzing city. It was dense with aster, goldenrod, and drying seed heads of prairie dock and purple cone-flower. The trees were radiating with the golds and oranges of fall. Isabel was nestled up against me in her Ergo carrier, and took it all in; a wonderful way to ring in autumn.

Wandering the Halls of the Field Museum


September 22, 2011

I found this. I was wondering where they were keeping it.

Edward Lear Sketches of Parrots


September 21, 2011

If you haven't been on Bibliodyssey yet today, you have to go check out these fantastic watercolor sketches of parrots. I especially love all of the brush/color testing mark in the margins of the paintings. Incredible.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Pheucticus ludovicianus


September 20, 2011

Last Thursday I was able to clock in some time at the zoology lab. I made a study skin of another Pheucticus ludovicianus. This is the forth that I have worked on since returning to the Field to continue my volunteer work in the bird division. Two were fully mature males, one was a female, and then this one (in the photos above) was an immature fall male. Adult Rose-breasted Grosbeak males have bold color contrasts: solid black head, wings, and back contrasted with a white breast and a patch of rosy red at the neck. Adult females look more like large sparrows: brown, with lots of dark streaking. An immature male will sort of look like a hybrid between female and adult male plumage. It will be brown with lots of dark streaking except there will be some patches of that gorgeous strawberry red.

Aside from the plumage, another indication that this was not a fully mature male was that when I looked at the skull, the bone was not fully ossified. Bone ossification in passerine birds will yield a fine stippling pattern throughout the skull. This male's skull was only about 40% ossified, meaning the stippling pattern only covered roughly 40% of his skull bone.

The last I checked, grosbeaks are in the Cardinalidae family, which of course include cardinals.

John Conrad Hansen


September 15, 2011

I started today in a rotten mood. Rotten. Phooey. I went to the Field Museum and it helped disspel that state. One of the things I love is that in the hallways that I walk through to get to the zoology prep lab, there are some great little display cases. This is one of my favorites. It's a case that has original paintings by this old Field illustrator, John Conrad Hansen. It's hard to be grumpy while gazing upon little elephanthippos, and wooly mammoths. And really, Mr. Hansen looks like he had the potential to beat me at grumpiness any day of the week.

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