This past month I’ve been creating art as part of the #Feathruary2022 by @MischievousRedFox on Instagram. Illustrating birds is not only fun, and a great way for me to study local birds & learn more about their identifying characteristics, but it is also a good way to educate about the importance of birds in our ecosystem. Each piece in this series is a mix of photography and illustration, with the habitat photographed, and the illustrated bird overlaid. In all of the Feathruary Art Challenge prompts, I chose to feature local, Southeastern PA bird species.
These birds are easily identifiable with their white chests, grey backs, and unique habit of perching upside down. Their beaks are relatively long for a bird of their size, and are slightly upturned. This helps them as they peck at suet feeders and dig into furrows in tree bark.
This particular individual is a classy lady, with her grey head. The distinguished gentlemen birds have a darker, almost black top of the head.
White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) help maintain insect populations and act as seed dispersers in their primary habitat of deciduous forests.
While the White-breasted Nuthatch is commonly found in Pennsylvania, there are other species. Other North American nuthatches include the Red-breasted Nuthatch (also found in PA), and the Pygmy Nuthatch.
The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is a vibrant yellow color with black caps and wing tips. The males are more vibrant than the females, although in the winter, will lose his vibrant breeding plumage and look more similar to the females. This yellow color is obtained from their food, so the more vibrant the coloration, the more likely he is to be able to provide for the female and future chicks.
Goldfinches are some of my favorite birds, yet climate change is creating a disconnect between food resource bloom time and migration time, making them increasingly uncommon in PA. They rely on Black-Eyed Susan’s, coneflowers, and thistles as food resources and trees overlooking meadow areas as nesting habitat. As temperature increases, the bloom of flowers that they use as food no longer overlaps with their migration time. This, combined with human impacts has caused the American Goldfinch to move their range farther north, meaning seeing them in PA is more of a treat.
Similar to the Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-Shinned (Accipiter striatus) can be identified by it’s small size (smaller than a crow), small head: large eye size ratio, and horizontal banding across the tail and wing feathers.
While their favorite habitat is dense forests, they also love to hang around feeders since songbirds make up roughly 90% of their diet. They are talented mid-air hunters and are known to catch insects and other birds in flight. Despite being a strong predator themselves, they are also prey to larger raptors such as goshawks.
This particular Sharp-shinned individual illustrated here is a juvenile, just turning into an adult. When out birding, birds within the same species may look different due to a variety of factors, age being one of them. As birds mature, their feather coloration often changes with time. This is common in raptors and birds of prey. Other changes may occur seasonally, like with the goldfinch.
There are so many duck species found locally, however the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is one of the most easily recognizable! The male’s iridescent green head, and bright yellow bill (females have a dark-colored bill) make them easy to spot.
One of the reasons that they are so widely knows is that they can thrive in any wetland environment, real or man-made, making them common urban ducks. They can be seen swimming along with the current in forest streams, dabbling around in city water basins, and anywhere else with water!
Other ducks in this area include Mergansers, Wood Ducks, Longtails, Canvasbacks, Ruddy ducks, and more.
These sneaky birds have a dark back with some long stripes of white along their wing, not to be confused with the Spotted Towhee who has many more spots along their wings. Their chests are a whitish-tan, fading into a rusty-red color.
Even if the Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is common in your area, they can be hard to spot! They love to hop in thickets and understory growth, searching for food such as seeds and insects. Building brush piles, adding thicket plant cover, and setting up feeders can attract them to your yard.
Do you love illustration and want to learn how to draw scientifically too? Do you love all things wildlife and want to share that passion with everyone you see? Check out my calendar of events for upcoming illustration classes (both in-person and virtual). Visit my shop to snag some bird stickers, magnets, and more! A portion of the proceeds helps to support wildlife conservation efforts.