I remember, some years back, reading a wildlife artist–he painted mostly birds–who said something to the effect that “People ooh and ahh over paintings of the exotic birds–toucans and hoatzins and cock-of-the-rock*–but what they buy are the birds they recognize from their garden.”

This struck me as probably true, but I didn’t think all that much of it, since I don’t paint all that many birds.

Then today I was over at the Wild Bird Company, buying a 12-pack of suet (I run through suet like water since I had to stop using the hot pepper stuff) and they had a rack of bird ornaments, and I found myself looking over them with delight–belted kingfisher, downy woodpecker, goldfinch, chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch–birds that I know. And I turned around and there was a rack of bird earrings, and of course I zero in instantly on the goldfinches and the woodpeckers because I know those birds.

I did not buy either, but the goldfinch earrings tempted me sorely, and if I ever wore yellow, I might have broken down.

The exception to this, I’d say, are cardinals and hummingbirds–at least ruby throated hummingbirds. Cardinals and hummingbirds have flocked with the lawn flamingo in the ranks of cliche birds, and now I don’t think they register in quite the same way. I would succumb to downy woodpecker earrings, while I have passed over innumerable hummingbirds, and I have no idea how you’d breathe life into a cardinal-on-snowy-branch anymore, without giving it tiny sacrificial sickles and vestments and having it sacrificing a chickadee or something along those lines. On the other hand, I doubt we’d have such a glut of cardinals if they didn’t sell, so perhaps those people know something I don’t.

*I have no idea if he used these examples, but the name of the cock-of-the-rock is just too good not to type, and not just because it’s faintly dirty. They’re amazing looking birds, too–go google them. They look like they’ve got an orange wedge taped to their foreheads.

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