I think I saw the Lord God Bird ~ the importance of cross-referencing!

People have been nice and have told me that I should publish a book with my bird photography.  I have no plans to do so, but I do enjoy seeing what others have published, including birding field guidebooks.  Guidebooks can be illustrative or photographic in nature, but one has to be careful when relying on an illustrative book.  Bird identification becomes dependent on the caliber of the artwork, and some renderings can lead to improper identifications!  

Years ago when we lived in the Maine woods, and before I was into birding, I was walking our wooded property when a very large, black bird with a red head and wings of black and white landed on a tree nearby.  I knew enough to identify it as a Woodpecker, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  

I went running inside and grabbed a bird guidebook that my Aunt had given me years before.  It was full of illustrations instead of photographs.  As I flipped through the Woodpecker section, I spotted what I thought was the bird I had just sighted.  I identified it as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (also known as the Lord God Bird)!!!

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers by John James Audubon

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers by John James Audubon

I called my brother long-distance to tell him what I had just seen, at which point he laughed and said “that would be really something since many people believe they are extinct if not extremely rare.”  

So, I went back to my book and looked at the other possibilities and the only other choice was the Pileated Woodpecker.  The colored drawing by the artist showed a brownish bird.  I knew I had seen a very black bird, so therefore it couldn’t have been a Pileated Woodpecker!

Well, sure enough it was a Pileated Woodpecker and the artist must have been colorblind!  ☺

I just discovered the artwork of Roger Tory Peterson, his illustrations of birds, and his Bird Field Guides.  His work is very well done and his identification system has long been deemed to be the best by many birders.  

Of course, there also are the wonderful illustrations and birding books by John James Audubon.  If I had had Audubon’s illustration of the Pileated Woodpecker in front of me, it would have been an easy identification.

Pileated Woodpeckers by John James Audubon

Pileated Woodpeckers by John James Audubon

David Sibley and his very popular guidebooks are another example of birding guidebooks, which are illustrated by Sibley himself.  

There are other notable artist/illustrators who have published guidebooks.  Experienced birders usually have a favorite guidebook.  Some birders prefer illustrated guidebooks over photographic, and vice versa, but all usually refer to their guidebooks as their “Bible”.   

So long story short, if you choose an illustrated guidebook for bird identification, make sure the artist/illustrator has the ability to capture the bird realistically.  

Below are a few photographs I’ve taken of the magnificent looking Pileated Woodpecker.  My limited experience with them is that they are very alert and quite skittish when it comes to being approached by birders like myself.  I’m constantly on the lookout for them and rarely see them long enough to take many pictures.   

Pileated Woodpecker photographed by William R. Beebe

Pileated Woodpecker photographed by William R. Beebe

Pileated Woodpecker photographed by William R. Beebe

Pileated Woodpecker photographed by William R. Beebe

I have yet to paint a Pileated Woodpecker, as I am currently working on a series of shorebirds. Illustrations, photographs, and written descriptions all help educate and provide important resource material for an artist’s own interpretation.  The Pileated Woodpecker is certainly on my “to do list”.  

Thank you as always for your interest in my art, my photography, and my journal!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What's next? Drawing by William R. Beebe

What's next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe