The Art of Birds

Artists have been moved, from at least the time of the Egyptians, to capture the likeness and the magic of birds. Their colors, movements, songs, their mysterious comings and goings with the seasons, have seemed almost supernatural, sacred. The earliest ornithologists in the United States discovered the seemingly endless species of the New World and captured their beauty, traits, and surroundings through paintings, journals, and published volumes. Mark Catesby, Alexander Wilson, and John James Audubon combined their scientific observations with the wonder of bird life through artistic renderings long before the advent of cameras, binoculars, telescopic lenses, film, video, or downstreaming. Woodrow Wilson’s daughters danced as birds in Percy Mackay’s play Sanctuary: A Bird Masque, to benefit the early conservationist movement; At 90, Marian McPartland, host of NPR’s popular Piano Jazz, composed a jazz symphony honoring Rachel Carson that begins with birdsong. You can hear it here. Even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart kept a pet starling and incorporated parts of its singing into the finale of his Piano Concerto K. 453.

Today, birds delight people from all walks of life. Whether amateurs or professionals, they seek to capture and share their love of birds through paintings and drawings, carvings and sculpture, photographs and films, music and performance. The art of birds stirs our imagination, awe, and wonder; it touches the spiritual and the sacred within us. It is why we wish to preserve and protect these marvelous beings who miraculously appear to us along a sandy beach, in a scarlet sunset, or at our windowsill.

Ross Feldner birding at Chincoteague, VA

Rachel Carson and friends on a bird walk in Glover Archibald Park, Washington, DC.

The Rachel Carson Council seeks to instill and inspire a love of birds through art. You will find here selected images and works gathered from many sources to stir your soul and move you to action. You will also find here a place to send and share your own work and that of others. Many of the photographs that grace our web site are by RCC’s Ross Feldner, a leading nature photographer and avid birder. He and fellow birder, RCC President & CEO, Bob Musil, haunt many of the places where Rachel Carson spotted and wrote about birds from the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge Center in Maryland to Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park, Glover Archibald Park, the C&O Canal, Chincoteague Island, VA and more.

RCC contributors, like birds, are found everywhere so we receive paintings, artwork, and photos from across the nation, like this painting of a cardinal in North Carolina by RCC Fellow Kendall Jefferys. Send us and let us share your perceptions, perspectives, and images of birds, in whatever medium, whether you are a beginner, an amateur, or a polished professional.

We will look out for them at [email protected] and share them as widely as possible. Let art take flight.

The Latest on The Art of Birds

Four Winged Poems to Celebrate National Poetry Month
THIS TIME OF YEAR, the birds catch my attention and hold it. The robins are back, or maybe they’re just bolder. I see them most in this early spring season, when the worms are warming up out of the soil. The goldfinches are muted still, their diets not yet offering the delights that turn their plumage bright. And the mourning doves are crying all day long. Read more


Composers, Scientists, Designers Update Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ For an Era of Climate Change
The result is familiar but unsettling. Three hundred years ago, Vivaldi wrote “The Four Seasons.” It portrays the natural world, from birdsong to summer storms. But the warming climate could radically alter the natural world by 2050, so a new version of “The Four Seasons” has been altered, too.

“We really wanted to walk that line between being too ridiculously catastrophic and kind of meaningfully changing this to make it sound what we think it might feel like to live in that time,” says Tim Devine of AKQA. Read more at Yale Climate Connections


Audubon at Sea
Famous for his art and writing about birds—and infamous more recently for his racist views—John James Audubon traversed the Atlantic a dozen times, providing a snapshot into the state of the ocean two centuries ago.

On the bustling docks of New Orleans, Louisiana, just before he boarded the merchant ship Delos and left to cross the Atlantic, John James Audubon purchased a baby alligator for a dollar. He likely thought the animal would be fun to draw, and the live specimen might impress the naturalists of Britain when he delivered his paper “Observations of the Natural History of the Alligator.”8 Read more at Audubon


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