Animal Paintings

The little brown sparrow and me

I have always enjoyed painting birds. I think its because I am drawn to their “lightness” and fragility.  As a child was obsessed by bird flight. I loved watching crows and seagulls riding the wind currents on a gusty day. I used to have dreams where I was floating around looking down on the world. I decided it was a matter of mind over matter. If I just thought myself into flight I would be able to fly. So I tried. I got on the garden table and launched myself into the air. Needless to say I had to have quite a few stitches on the brow of my nose. Look closely and you can still see the feint scar.

I was looking through my photographs of the paintings I have done over the last year or so and realised that I have quite a sparrow “thing” going on. Why sparrows? After all they are mostly brown. Not the most exciting plumage. Not like the comical puffins with their orange bills or the bold little robins with the red chest. Brown with a bit of white.

I love sparrows. Let me let you why.  They are tiny finch-like birds. They have stout bodies, rounded wings and broad heads, with deep, conical bills. These are designed this way for eating seeds. The brown females are very difficult to see on the earth. The males have smart black bibs.  These humble thing have managed to colonise most of the world. They are lively and feisty little creatures. They hop on the ground in a jaunty manner. They are certainly not glamorous, and they don’t even sing songs as such, but make lots of loud chirps and cheeps. They are noisy and gregarious creatures. I like these noisy chirps and cheeps, they make me think of summer. They always seem to be friendly chaps. I have watched a gang of them in the hedgerow jumping from branch to branch and and cheeping. I once had the fright of seeing a sparrow hawk swoop down on a rose bush populated with jumping sparrows! The hawk wasn’t lucky. The little brown birds vanished from sight.

Sparrow are tiny almost insignificant creatures yet they get a mention in the New Testament for that very reason: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” They were clearly also ubiquitous in the middle east two thousand years ago.

Many eons ago, I was a Medievalist. I did a doctorate and even lectured on the world that existed over thousand years ago.  One of my favourite quotes about the nature of human existence come from a Medieval monk, Bede, who lived in the most northerly part of England in the 7th Century AD: – “The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the swift flight of a sparrow through the mead-hall where you sit at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes, while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all.”― Ecclesiastical History of the English People 

Finally, who wasn’t mesmerised by Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud and the first little bird he cares for in the 1962 movie, “Birdman of Alcatraz“? I was a big fan of Burt Lancaster anyway, but add some tiny birds and I was totally gripped by this film when I first saw it as a child. The first bird he cares for looks like a sparrow to me, its hard to tell as the film is in black and white. The later ones, I think are canaries (judging from the film poster). What do you think?

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It WAS a sparrow!

Recently, the little sparrow hasn’t been doing so well in the UK. Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations!

tresp 002 (Tommy Holden) (A)-200pxHowever, there is a small sliver lining to this big black cloud, while the decline in England continues, Breeding Bird Survey data indicate recent population increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Also, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Bird Feeding Survey data from the last two winters shows that more of them are turning to our garden feeding stations. I know that there are plenty in my local park in Brynmill, as I was watching yesterday morning through a large one way glass window in the Discovery Centre. This window enables visitors to view birds in their natural habitat without disturbing them. I hope the cheeky sparrows continue to thrive here and elsewhere in the UK.

A selection of small bird prints are also available here.

 

 

 

23 replies »

  1. I’m a bit of a bird lover too, Emma! I think it started in Primary School when I had a bird loving teacher and that was when I also found that it wasn’t that hard to draw them realistically ~ I really miss some of the UK birds! Here in the US there don’t seem to be tons of sparrows and of course we just don’t have the Blue tits or the European Robins…instead we have to make do with Cardinals, Chickadee’s and something called a “Dark eyed junco”. Thanks for sharing your sparrow paintings, I have always had a soft spot for them, cheeky little rascals of the bird table that they are! 🙂

  2. They’re quite underappreciated these cute, tiny birds. I think I’ve seen less of them too. If you’re looking for more references, Tom Odell has a song called “Sparrow” that I really like.

  3. These little sparrows are so charming. I love them. We have a feeder at home and my husband has it set up for the smaller birds. The sparrows, purple finch, american goldfinch and at some times of the year the grey junkos. The bigger birds , doves, blue jays ec can get what is dropped on the ground. We also put out a bird bath in the hot weather and they all take advantage of that. You have captured the sparrows little expressions beautifully as well.

    • Sounds delightful. I#d like to see all these different bird. We have cats so we see few birds in our garden. I have to visit one of the two local parks to see them or at my parents house in England. My father is a keen feeder of birds. He has a collection of crows that like to visit him.

  4. I thought I’d already left a comment, but seems not – good job I came back. I love your paintings, Emma. I love your brushstrokes and colours, and the background colours. You are very very talented.

    • Ali, that’s very kind of you to say so. Artists love hearing compliments (even if we pretend we don’t). Thank you also for taking the time to come back (twice) and going to the effort of leaving a comment, Emma.

  5. Wonderful paintings. I can totally understand your delight in them — they make a wonderful motif. Such beautiful creatures. I’m surprised to hear of declining populations — they seem so numerous here (Washington DC area). At roosting time whole trees will be filled with birds, chirping and twittering. The quote from your Medievalist life is so beautiful and that’s a lovely reference to Bird Man also — haven’t thought about that movie in ages. Your remark brings it back. Was a very affecting moment in my childhood too — probably in the lives of many people who saw that movie. Your drawings capture the unique charm of these amazing birds.

    • Thanks Aletha, It funny how you start a blog and all these ideas and memories pop into your head. I hadn’t thought about that movie for years. It was back in the day when you had to sit down and watch a film when it came on the TV (before the internet and Netflix). I thought about it a lot after seeing it. I am so glad that sparrows are doing so well in the Washington DC area. I expect it’s down to loss of habit and pesticides in farming. We have lots of crows roosting in the trees and on roof tops here at dusk – I enjoy seeing them do a few fly over the park before the settle down for the night in the park.

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