Natural Science Illustration: British Garden Birds March 1st 2014

Story posted: Saturday, 1. March 2014 by Lizzie Harper

Unsurprisingly, like most scientific illustrators, I have a lot of love for the bird visitors to my garden and encourage them by feeding them grain, dried mealworms, nyjar seed and peanuts.  Not only does this tempt them in, but it also makes them the unwitting subjects of my illustrations.


I learnt a good deal more about my avian visitors by joining the British Trust for Ornithology's Garden Birdwatch schemeIt requires you to watch the birds in your garden for 10 minutes every day and then report the sightings once a week to the BTO who collate the results and construct distribution maps across the UK.  This discipline has really helped me learn my birds, and taught me to be far more aware of the wildlife in my own back yard.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a blackbird

Sometimes they stay still enough for a quick sketch, sometimes I catch them on camera.  Often I just freeze and stare at them going about their business, trying to learn their distinctive poses.  Whether the common blackbird (above) or the rarer visitors (such as the long-tailed tit below), I feel privelidged to have them in my garden.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a long tailed tit

The little blue-tits are very present in spring, perching precariously on the washing line and seeking out nesting sites.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a bluetit

Our garden has a resident throng of sparrows who mostly spend their day bickering in the jasmine bush.  In spring they pick holes in the old wall and nest inside, and seldom stop their argumentative twittering.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a sparrow

Although common in urban areas, I seldom see magpies in the garden.  I know a lot of people dislike these birds because of their habit of predating the nests of smaller birds, and their raucous cries; but if you stop to look at the pink and green irridescence on their plumage as they strut across the garden perhaps you'll soften towards them.  I think they're beautiful.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a magpie

Goldfinch will come to the nyger seeds, or teasel heads when I leave them standing overwinter.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of goldfinch

I even had a bullfinch at the feeder once, which thrilled me (it doens't take a lot).

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a bullfinch

For a while we had a resident thrush who ignored the food I left out but used a stone just outside my studio window to tap, tap, tap away at snails.  When we heard the sound, the kids and I would creep to the door and stare out in silence as the thrush adeptly broke the shell and efficiently swallowed the snail.  The shell chippings are still amongst the winter grass.  Alas, Ive never had one nesting in the shed, although I was asked to paint such a scenario once.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a thrush

I know we have wrens because I sometimes catch their speedy low flight out of the corner of my eye, but I am yet to see one that's not busy escaping.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a wren

The woodpeckers come to the garden sometimes for the peanuts, but never stay long.  Their red crests and pie-bald markings make them instantly recognizable and very obvious.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a greater spotted woodpecker

Robins are frequent visitors, furiously chasing away the other birds from the bird feeder or, just like in fiction, hopping along as I garden and picking up the invertebrates my aimless diggings reveal.

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a robin

The wood pigeon is a bird which I find a little hard to love.  They seem bloated and heavy, and stare blankly out as they waddle across the grass.  They make a beautiful sound, however, and I am trying harder to like them.  I imagine everyone has their favourite garden bird, and their least favourite.  What's yours?

Lizzie Harper natural science illustration of a wood pigeon

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