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Bird Painting 101: Wire-tailed Manakins, Part II

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I got a wee bit ahead of myself with that flying bird. There is still lots to be done on the plate overall. I draw the female and her nest, using reference photos gleaned online. I'm amazed at the teeny tiny nest, made of leaves seemingly stitched together with cobwebs.

Many Neotropical birds build such tiny nests, barely noticeable among all the hanging doo-dads in a humid forest. They're trying to make the nests look like something other than a nest. This is because there are so many predators waiting to raid them.

Painting a nest is a lot like building a nest. Painstaking. I marvel at the artistry of the bird as I work. It really looks like a bunch of leaves stuck in a spider's web, nothing that might hold a tasty treat.

The other thing about tiny tropical nests is the tiny clutches of eggs laid in them. Many Neotropical birds lay only two or at most three eggs at a time. Once again, predation pressure is to blame for this. But the flip side of that is this: It's so difficult for tropical birds to fledge young in this snaky, rodenty, monkeyey, coatiey environment that many of them have astonishingly long lifespans. They need to, to be able to replace themselves. They try year after year, putting comparatively low investment in each nest. Manakins, for instance, may live into their thirties!

Whoops, forgot her tail wires. Females have them too. 

This gives them plenty of time to mature and work out awesome dance routines to lure that mate into tossing her hat into the ring. More on those later.

Here's a subadult male wire-tailed manakin. As I was painting this, I thought I might call this bird's portrait "Molting Sucks."

He's got a ways to go before he gets his crayon colors. Males start out looking like females, and gradually get nattier.

In watercolor, you paint the lighter, brighter colors first, then add the darks. Even though I'd like to save the reds and yellows for dessert. You can see I've tackled the poor molting male first. Get him out of the way, him and his pinfeathers sticking up like curlers in his hair. Poor kid.

Just starting to lay in the blacks on one male. 

You might fairly wonder what is going on here. 
Two male manakins doing whaaat?
Next time.


Your paintings are great. I think painting is a perfect way to get to know and remember a new bird species. I wondered if you would mind sharing what kind of watercolor paints and paper you use.

Not at all! I use Daniel Smith watercolors (available online) and Winsor-Newton cold press 140 lb. paper. I find Daniel Smith w'colors much more affordable and better than the overpriced Winsor-Newton. I also use D.S. part synthetic brushes. Which reminds me I must make a new order. My brushes are beat, all 10,000 of them.

When you do your paintings, which comes first, background or bird? I always have trouble deciding which to do first when I paint.

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