Sunday, April 21, 2013
I left you hanging over the weekend. I am sorry. So much weeding to do, so little time. The burning question: what's going on here? Well, let me paint in some tail wires and I'll tell you.
The right male is tickling the face of the left male with his tail wires. He's swishing his tail rapidly back side to side and swatting the other bird in the face. In response, the left bird blinks and shakes his head but doesn't move. This is a pantomime of the courting dance of the wire-tailed manakin, performed between two males, presumably to demonstrate to watching females what they could be enjoying.
I have yet to key up the darks and lights on these birds, hold on.
Manakins in this genus (Pipra) do a lot of buttcentric dancing. The moonwalking red-capped manakin shot to viral Internet fame when the dance it has perfected over millenia was videotaped and set to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." I have mixed feelings about this, as you might expect.
This is a nice National Geographic video of dancing red-capped manakins. I'm not sure why there's a singing eastern wood-pewee in the sound track. Maybe pewees sing just before they head north. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt there. And please ignore the inane macho LCD commentary about dating (sigh, grrrr, eyeroll) and just look at those moves. What thighs.
Manakins are magic; they seem to move without visible means of propulsion, sliding and popping along their perches faster than the eye can follow. They're smooth little characters and can be hilariously funny, too. I tried to capture some of that spirit in these paintings. For reference, I used videos from ARKive.org. You can see how the wires are used in the first video.
I feel unbelievably lucky to have such material at my fingertips. Sitting here in Whipple, Ohio, painting a bird I've never seen, and able to get it right. That is a miracle. This is the voice of a career illustrator, who started in 1976, having to dig through library stacks hoping there might be a tiny blurry black-and-white photo of the bird somewhere that I could use for reference. The chances of finding photos and video of wire-tailed manakin displays and nests then were zero to none. The digital revolution has changed all that, and I am humbled and thankful.
Here's that flying male again. On the videos, the birds just appear and disappear, so fast do they fly, so I had to construct this bird from a photo of a hand-held bird with one wing stretched out.
The finished dancing pair.
And the finished plate. Thanks to Brandt and Julia Ryder for their support in commissioning this painting.