The Pyrrhuloxia is a first cousin of the Northern Cardinal and is a frequently seen bird in southern Arizona. The name of the bird comes from two words: pyrrhos (flame-colored) and loxos, which refers to the reddish highlight in the feathers, mostly in the long red crest, breast, and tail feathers. The bird also differs from the Cardinal because of its curved parrot-like bill. Males are greyer-colored and females are browner-colored, frequently mistaken for female Cardinals. I wanted to carve a simple presentation of this colorful desert bird focusing on the brightness of the red contrasting with the dullness of the grey.
One day I was thumbing through a wildlife photo magazine and found this incredible photo of a Cactus Wren with a butterfly in his mouth, hunched over with tail down right after the capture of his meal. I just had to carve it! There was so much “life in the moment” and personality of the bird on display. Creating the right and accurate butterfly was a challenge also. There is as much detail in the butterfly as there is with the bird! Together they present a simple but compelling moment in the life of this appreciated desert bird.
This is a common but frequently overlooked bird throughout the U.S. The courtship flight of the male begins with an upward arc and audible wing clapping and ends in a glide with a flamboyant tail display. I wanted to capture that moment in wood. I cannot express the difficulties of carving these two birds…the female at rest and the male displaying. Carving the open wings and tail required some innovative “engineering” solutions. Mounting the male so that the feet are free trying to capture that “one important moment” while the female seems rather unimpressed was a real challenge. And, if you think doves are just plain grey and brown birds, think again! Painting the subtleties of the coloration nearly drove me nuts! This carving took me several hundred hours to complete over 6 months. This is a special pair of rather common birds!
I carved this full-size head sculpture out of basswood using only knives and hand gouges concentrating on the unruly nature of the head feathers trying to capture the flow and disarray rather than intricate detail. The Bald Eagle has a more “bulbous” beak and a wider mouth gape than other eagles and the focused glare and “challenge” of the eyes adds to the boldness of the piece. Only a hint of the body flows from the head to the base.
This little guy was carved in the “smoothie style” much as decoy carvers do their art focusing on “painting for realism.” Found throughout the west it sometimes hunts during the day sometimes attacking birds larger than itself. To me, all owls have an “attitude” and I hope I captured a little bit of this guy’s viewpoint!
These “little brown birds” are often not noticed or dismissed when you see them. They are found in grassy woodland edges, gardens, city parks, brushy pastures, and lawns feeding on the ground. In the breeding season, males always sing from an elevated perch….one that is “perfect” for the song!
The Northern Flicker is a common resident across the U.S. In the West, the Red-shafted form is the most common variety seen. While they are a woodpecker, the Northern Flicker actually spends a lot of time on the ground searching for food and particularly enjoys gobbling up ants from the neighborhood ant pile. I found a photo of a Flicker perched upon an ant hill with one unlucky ant hanging from his beak. I just had to carve it! Trying to carve a bird in the proper habitat and carrying on with life’s duties can be challenging in capturing the “personality” of the bird. Creating the Harvester Ants was even more challenging! The ants are scurrying around trying to respond to this bird. The base of the carving is of rotted mesquite, full of holes and really adds to the realism of the piece. The Flicker is a beautiful bird, and I hope I captured a little of the life of the bird….and the ants!
This was a project carved with famed bird carver Glenn McMurdo. This bird is seen along the ocean shore and inland in meadows, lawns and golf courses with long reddish legs hunting for worms and other critters. When on the nest and disturbed it will race away on long legs dragging a wing, acting if injured, to lure a possible predator away from its nest. The long legs of this particular little bird are folded under as it sits at rest….or maybe on a nest?
This is one of the smallest but most colorful of the warbler’s who spend their winters in the desert southwest. The black cap, greenish cape and yellow body will catch your eye as it moves through low bushes, up and down the branches, constantly actively searching for food. I tried to capture a non-conventional pose with one wing draped lower than the other trying to capture a sense of movement for this active little bird.
This is a common and very active bird found in oak and pinyon-juniper habitat of the west coast and into the eastern rim county of Arizona. It seems they are never at rest and fly together in small, loud flocks of birds working an area constantly looking for food. They are truly the “kings of the scrub”! I wanted to capture that alertness and motion, giving the viewer a sense that the bird is about ready to fly but also placing it in a low-to-the-ground habitat where something edible might be found.
This is a common Falcon found in the desert and canyon country of the west. It is at rest and relaxed with puffy chest, belly and flank feathers covering the flight feathers and folding over the toes. But, it is still alert keeping watch, perhaps seeing another bird in the distance with its head elevated and focused on something in the distance. I wanted to capture a bird in a relaxed, yet vigilant and alert pose.
I found an incredible photo of this bird in exactly this pose. Can you imagine the luck of the photographer to capture it at the precise moment the bird came down? Can you imagine the difficulty of trying to capture the photo in wood? The photo gave me a precise opportunity to duplicate the feathers in their exact positions and numbers. The bird has captured a Desert Spiny Lizard trying to blend into the cottonwood bark base…but not well enough as this story is told.