a theoretical birder

I love this piece from the Smithsonian magazine on the photographs of Sharon Beals. Each photograph is stunning and of course it reminds us of nests we’ve seen, if we’re lucky. I remember that my mother used to put strands of red wool on the carport roof outside her bedroom window in Victoria so she could better detect the nest it would invariably end up woven into. And I loved finding chickadee nests at the end of the season, lined with hair from our golden retriever Tiger.


“I have become what I call a theoretical birder, one with a very short life list but on a quest to learn what birds need to be sustained both locally and globally,” Beals explains in an artist statement. “It was only after making the first photograph of a nest, drawn to its palette and messy, yet graceful and functional form, that I knew I had found my medium—or at least a way that I could be a medium for the birds.”

Not long after my mother died in 2010, I dreamed that I was taking down nests in the willow by our western deck. In fact there’s often a robin nest cradled in the slender branches, sheltered by the clematis vine that has taken over the willow’s frame. But in the dream there were four nests, one for each of my mother’s children, and as I took each one from its place in the tree, I placed it on the railing of the deck, a small gallery of her final gift to us.

2 thoughts on “a theoretical birder”

  1. LOVE your mom’s red wool experiment – it is brilliant! I have a few nests in my possession – woven from horse hair from my neighbour’s horses – but nothing phenomenally colourful or intricate like these from Sharon Beals. I really like the choice of the black background – makes al of the difference in the photographs.

    Every time I happen upon a nest, I feel grateful. It is always a wondrous and personal experience.


  2. Yes, the black backgrounds are just such stunning contrasts to the threads and grasses and pale eggs. Some years ago my son gave me a book of Edvard Koinberg’s photographs following the structure of Linnaeus’s floral calendar. (I think there’d just been an exhibit of the photographs at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa.) And like the nests, these are so beautifully crisp — the seed pods, corollas, etc. against black.

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