Draw a Bird Day – September 8th

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Stephen’s Island Wren. Last seen in 1894. The only known perching bird without the ability to fly.

Stephen’s Island is in New Zealand between the North and South Islands. About 1000 years ago, the arrival of the Pacific rat eliminated the Stephen’s Island Wren from all parts of New Zealand except Stephen’s Island. In 1894, the New Zealand government built a lighthouse and one lonely lighthouse keeper moved to the island. He brought a cat along to keep him company. It took about a year for kitty to exterminate the small wren population. The lighthouse keeper sent some of the dead birds his cat left on his doorstep to a museum. Twelve Stephen Island Wren’s are presently held in museum collections.

I loosely copied my wren illustration from a beautiful book I picked up at the library a few weeks ago: “A Gap in Nature – Discovering the World’s Extinct Animals”. The text is by Tim Flannery and the illustrations are by Peter Schouten. I didn’t feel like drawing a bird from a photograph on my computer screen, so I thought I’d draw one of the birds in the book. I also decided tonight was a good night to try my Micron pen. Pen is very black! The bird outline was straightforward; but when I started adding details, I felt like I was inexorably headed toward an overly dark mess of black chicken scratches. Oh well, it’s a start!

Thanks to Laura at Create Art Everyday for starting and supporting a monthly Draw A Bird Day. Thanks to M.R. Emberson at A-wing and A-way for the original blog post on the official Draw A Bird Day on April 8th. And thanks to all the cool peeps who posted a bird drawing today. πŸ™‚

A photograph of the wren illustration in the book:

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30 Comments

  1. Oh Myr! It is amazing in black and white! You did an incredible drawing. I love it!

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    1. Thanks Jodi :-). You’re very sweet. I do like the sharpness of ink compared to pencil. I’m glad I had the courage to finally use my pens. Now I just need to practice a bit.

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  2. Great facial expression.
    I’ve got a set of markers in 4 widths, from .1 to .7, and I use them all. A very fine pen would ease some of the blackness if it bothers you, but I like it in your sketch. Sometimes the wider ones do seem too inky to me too, but other times I like them…
    And that book sounds like one I need to look for at the library. (K.)

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    1. Thanks Kerfe :-). I had to redraw the beak lines many, many times in pencil to get the expression! I used a Pitt S (Faber-Castell). The actual drawing is about half the size of the posted drawing (on my big computer screen anyway). Some time in the future I would like to try using different line widths in a drawing. Thanks for sharing your pen experience! OMG! I just figured out how to differentiate you and Nina (tags are so handy :-)). You are the line master (your Martin Luther King Jr was stupendous)! I think you would enjoy the book.

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      1. I did a bunch of versions of MLK before I got one I liked…one line placement can really make a difference.
        And you’ve reminded me to check the library website for the book!

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        1. I just need to remember that sometimes the right line takes a bit of work :-). And sometimes, after the initial frustration, the work feels a bit like a dance of getting to know the subject better.

          I read on Wikipedia that the Stephen’s Island Wren was exterminated by multiple feral cats, not just one cat, based on some research done in 2004. The book I’m reading was published in 2001. I still highly recommend the book even though that particular story is not quite correct.

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  3. You did a wonderful job with this, and I agree with Kerfe – really nice nib width for this bird, I think. Another way to adjust I’ve found is to use a really light touch, like way light, if you feel as though it’s too black. Sometimes you can get the feeling of a much smaller nib that way. I love your drawing, Myriam! Great feet too. Bird feet are tough.

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    1. Thanks Laura :-). Your pen drawings were very inspirational. I do like it when you use the light touch. I’m a bit heavy handed, but I’ll practice changing up the pressure (I can do it with a regular ball-point pen). It was fun to draw a bird with big feet! I don’t know if it was the artist’s choice or if the wren had proportionally larger feet because it ran around instead of flying.

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  4. Nicely drawn Myr, what a sad ending for such a beautiful little bird.

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    1. Thanks Sharon :-). It can be deadly when a new creature is introduced into an ecosystem. I suppose that is how life goes, big-picture-wise. As humans we do have some control over the living things that exist in some ecosystems. I don’t know a lot about this, but I’ve been learning more about it lately.

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  5. I LOVE your drawing! My son read about this a long time ago and we have been against letting pet cats outdoors since. Cats are my favorite pets but I am well aware of the damage they can wreak. Sadly, many cat owners are still in denial about this; they way under-estimate the number of birds a single cat can kill. Thanks so much for posting this to your blog! x

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    1. Thanks Teresa :-)! You’re so wonderfully supportive.

      I think you will enjoy this cartoon: http://disfordoodle.com/2015/07/30/my-fluffy-killer/.

      Does one cat kill a lot of birds? I’ve been seeing a lot of cats in my yard since I got a bird feeder but they seem to just ogle and salivate.

      I’m quite fond of cats and birds. I think it is ok if a cat kills a few birds… as long as they are not endangered. Then I would need to train fluffy to catch only House Sparrows.

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      1. I looked up cats, the big bird murderers last night, and there is research from many countries saying that they are the largest anthropogenic bird killer. However, when I read some of the details, I was not convinced that they were that awful. Also, according to Wikipedia, the story of the Stephen’s Island Wren being exterminated by one cat is false. The island had multiple feral cats (something about a pregnant cat escaping into the wild). I’ll read some more about cat bird killing research to get a better idea. But so far, it looks to me like the negative impact of one cat depends on where you live. In my neighborhood, they probably mostly catch slow and sickly juvenile house sparrows.

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      2. Hah! Yes, I think even my son would be okay if the cats only caught house sparrows (and maybe starlings). πŸ™‚ I can’t get the cartoon to load right now (at home with my worse-than-third-world-internet), so will check it out later.

        There have been many studies that show that outdoor cats kill way more birds than most people think (partly because they have a whole secret life – the 20 hours of the day that nobody is watching them – that few people know of). The first time I read about this was about 22 years ago in Natural History magazine. Since then, there have been other studies. American Bird Conservancy, I believe, has some good links about the issue. Cats are just too good hunters! πŸ™‚

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        1. Hmm. It seems like killer cats have been news items for a really long time and the issue persists. I read an interesting article in the New York Times from 2007 about a bird lover (Jim Stevenson) who killed some feral cats in Galveston to protect the piping plovers. He was accused of animal cruelty and the case went to trial and the jury couldn’t decide, so the case was dismissed. After that, Texas made killing feral cats illegal (it was a grey issue before). It looks like both Canada and the US use trap, neuter and release to deal with stray cats. But Australia is planning to kill 2 million feral cats to save their native wildlife.

          I’ve never seen any of my neighborhood cats catch anything. They chase birds and squirrels, but so far, I’ve only seen them be outmaneuvered. Backyard amusement :-). I did walk by a tree full of Cedar Waxwings the other day, with two cats sitting under it. I asked the owner if the cats caught a lot of birds. Oh yes!

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          1. There should be a book called The Secret Life of Cats written by scientists who use 24/7 surveillance on those crafty felines. πŸ™‚ I love cats and don’t agree with killing them, but in areas where feral ones threaten endangered native species, I have to say that the birds’ lives outweigh the cats’. :-/ Sadly, it is all people’s fault for dumping unwanted pets and not neutering them…and it’s the animals that suffer for it.

            Now how did we get to such a depressing topic? LOL!

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            1. LOL! Sometimes cute birds lead to depressing topics…

              There is a National Geographic documentary called The Secret Life of Cats. So far, I’ve seen some awesome footage of an African wildcat (the ancestor of domestic cats) hunting his prey.

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            2. Aren’t big cats just the epitome of scary grace and stealth? I wouldn’t want to be close to one personally, but I love seeing them on shows like NOVA or Nature. πŸ™‚

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            3. Yup. Lovely from a distance :-).

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  6. I LOVE your little bird! So tweet! πŸ™‚
    Interesting to read about it too!

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    1. Aw Jill, you’re the tweetest! πŸ™‚

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  7. That’s a wonderful illustration, Myriam, and the Micron pen sounds like loads of fun!! Thanks, too, for sharing the story about the last Stephen’s Island Wren. I had read about the incident, but the story is a cautionary tale. (BTW, I’m also a fan of cats, but know they are one of the biggest killers of birds.)

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    1. Thanks M :-). I found the Micron pen a bit scary, but now that I am familiar with it, I think we will have fun together. I didn’t realize cats were such big bird killers until you and Teresa mentioned it and I looked it up. So far, it seems to me like the research summaries give cats a bad rap but the details show a less awful picture. Maybe I’ll update my post with my own little summary of “Cats! The big bird killers”.

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      1. The Micron pen looks like fun, and you seem to be doing wonderful things with it! Yeah, as a cat fan (I like dogs, too, though), I was disappointed but not surprised about their cat-killer status. Birds go after insects, so cats have this instinct to hunt birds. That’s nature.

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        1. I never thought of cats killing birds or mammals as a big deal. But I’ve been reminded that when there are two many hunters and the prey is too easy to catch, some species can disappear, whomever the hunter is. And of course, the real issue is human animal mismanagement.

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  8. Adorable drawing and so well done, it tugs at the heartstrings…even before reading the tragic backstory. Cats are natural predators and sadly have assisted in wiping out different species but they are not necessarily villains, I think the trail of responsibility ultimately leads back to the two legged mammals for introducing them into previously secluded ecosystems. But other than that little donation of two cents…I think your inked illustration/sketch is great!

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    1. Thanks for the compliment and your two cents :-). I think your two cents sum things up quite accurately.

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  9. You and that micron and the wren = perfect combination. Lovely wren!

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    1. Thanks C :-). Perhaps the combination was perfect in the sense that it made ink drawing happen for me for the first time and now it could happen again!!!

      I enjoyed your bird drawings. And all your other drawing too :-).

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