by Bryce W. Robinson
My friend Kenneth, a Gyrfalcon researcher in Norway, is perhaps the most enthusiastically obsessed Gyrfalcon lover I know. I really appreciate his passion for the bird. Next week he is traveling to Salt Lake City for the Raptor Research Foundation’s annual conference. He asked me to paint a Gyrfalcon portrait for him, so I decided to take the opportunity to illustrate some perched birds to populate the plate I’ve been putting together. I going to produce some giclee prints of this plate, but I’m limiting it to 20 prints. If you like this image, and would like to purchase a print, it is available in the shop!
It’s taken me some time to paint birds that I’m pleased with enough to put into plate form. I’m still a bit at odds with these birds, but I think the above image best fits what I’m going for in creating the plate. My next step will be to paint some different postures and explore which best fills the gap in understanding the different positions and appearances that a Gyrfalcon may take on, in varying conditions. Additionally, the plate needs multiple different in flight postures, and some other age and plumage morph descriptions. Progress has been made either way, and I’m excited!
Below is the painting that I did for Kenneth, as it will look to him. I’ll be traveling to Salt Lake City myself, with this painting alongside me. Thanks for the opportunity Kenneth!
For the Orange-breasted Falcon whose diet consists primarily of avian prey, to eat requires a great deal of work. First, the birds must capture a food item. They specialize in above canopy surprise and pursuit capture, a technique that blends a bit of skill and luck. When the two align and the bird finally captures a meal, they then must prepare it. Falcons prefer to ingest little amounts of feather from their prey items, and thus need to efficiently remove the extraneous feathers to access the muscle. To remove these feathers, they pluck their prey nearly clean. Plucking can be beautiful, as I found with the Orange-breasted Falcon in the video above as it prepared a Great-tailed Grackle. Perched on a limb high overlooking a deep river valley, the bird plucks. The observer can easily recognize the bird’s technique of rip and flick, as it efficiently carries out its daily ritual and feathers calmly drift away in the hot Central American air.
I’ve painted the American Kestrel multiple times, and each is an improvement. But, all I see are the mistakes here. I struggle with being overly critical with myself, but I try to remember that the process and the growth are most important in my work. I learn a lot from each painting, about the birds structure, etc., but also about the process of painting. As I struggle with focusing on my faults, I’m working to stay focused on my growth, while recognizing the mistakes constructively. Hell, this exercise probably translates to everything in life, not just painting birds.
I’m going to make limited prints of this American Kestrel pair, so if you’re a kestrel lover click on the image and purchase a print.