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Bird Painting 101: Wire-tailed Manakins Part III

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 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. 


It is amazing how much knowledge is available at our fingertips these days and yet there is still so much we have to learn.

Just a side note about the Eastern Peewee singing....We are losing our wintering Painted Buntings. They are beginning to migrate further north. I can always tell when they are ready to leave because they start to sing and then within a week or two they are gone.

In the last week a friend and I have also seen singing Catbirds and a singing Northern Waterthrush, both of who are moving northward.

It is amazing to see your talent as you paint those birds and bring them to life with paper and pigment. Thanks for sharing your love of nature with your talent.

Kathy in Delray Beach

Thanks for your sharing, it's a good post, keep going and support you. And maybe you intersted in

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LOL! How does spam end up in blog comments? Doesn't the "person" have to type in the captcha words? Yes,I'm too old to know the answer-some 10-year old probably knows the answer.

Julie, you are so talented and seem so in love with/passionate about everything natural. Reading your blogs is a respite for me from this crazy urban world I inhabit right now. And now I can read your writings in the BWD too!

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