Naked as a Jay Bird: Women Painted as Avian Species

Models painted as birds flock Audubon president David Yarnold. Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for The National Audubon Society/AP Images

UPDATE (1/24/13): Scroll down for Kenn Kaufman's guesses for which bird species the models are supposed to represent.


Last week the National Audubon Society honored two exceptional conservationists at a gala held at The Plaza in New York City. Louis Bacon received the Audubon Medal and ornithologist George Archibald was awarded the Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership (he helped bring whooping cranes back from the brink of extinction, in part, by wooing a female named Tex. Fantastic, right? You need to read about it HERE).

Tom Brokaw emceed, Bette Midler sang, Uma Thurman attended, and models were painted as birds, of course.

But which species were they supposed to be? We’d like your opinion. Weigh in below, in the Comments section. Tomorrow, esteemed bird expert Kenn Kaufman will share his thoughts, and then we’ll reveal the actual species. Flock to it!


UPDATE 1/24/13: Kenn Kaufman weighs in with his bird IDs. We would've liked to have seen male models in the mix. As Kaufman points out, after all, some of the painted-on plumage is a better fit for males of certain species.


Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for The National Audubon Society/AP Images

From left to right:

1. Deep burnt orange on the head fading to very extensive yellow, with some black and white on her “wings” and a yellow stripe up the center of her forehead. This doesn’t look like an exact match for any bird. Flame-colored Tanager, a rare visitor to the Southwest, would be similar, and so would Blackburnian Warbler, but I would expect them to show a brighter, paler orange near the face area. Evening Grosbeak is the closest fit: in addition to the overall color, that bird has a yellow stripe above the eye and an appropriate wing pattern.


2. Strong black and white pattern, with a lot of narrow black stripes on white backgrounds. This one was a challenge. At first I was thinking of something like Black-and-white Warbler, but the black stripes seem too narrow and too continuous, and the distribution of black around her head, neck, and shoulders doesn’t seem right. But with a little imagination, she matches a stylized version of Pacific Loon in summer plumage.


3. Pale green and white, with stripes of magenta on the neck. This one is more straightforward; the pattern is a reasonably good match for a male Calliope Hummingbird. Many hummingbirds have that combination of green and white, but the Calliope is the only one in North America that has stripes on the throat.


4. Bright red chest, white belly, black on the shoulders and sides of the head. This is probably intended to be a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The thing that throws this off is the bright red stripe running up her forehead; that area would be black on the grosbeak. Maybe that red was added to the model just for dramatic effect. A better match for that head pattern would be Vermilion Flycatcher, but if she were meant to be that species, I wouldn’t expect so much white on her “wings” and elsewhere.


5. Brilliant blue, with patterning of black and white. This is the easiest member of the flock to identify; she makes a very good representation of a Blue Jay. The combination of deep blue, pale blue, and white on her “wings” is just right, she has a raised crest on her head like a Blue Jay’s, and her makeup duplicates some elements of the Blue Jay’s face pattern.


And the actual species the artist was aiming for, from left to right:

Blackburnian Warbler, Common Loon, Calliope Hummingbird, American Robin, and Blue Jay.

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