Birds in Flight ~ Poetry in motion evokes emotion!

As I find myself wondering what to paint next, I’m drawn to some of my recent photo images of birds in flight for subject matter.  There is something about the beauty of their flight, which speaks to me emotionally. Movement can evoke feelings of wonderment, awe, inspiration, power, excitement, admiration, etc…  This holds true whether it is a bird in flight, a ship under full-sail in a good wind, or a ballerina in motion.  

As a painter I want the viewer to connect to my paintings emotionally.  I also want to paint subjects that inspire me or move me in some way.  I love being out on the open water watching and photographing a sailing ship come to life with all of her canvas filled in a stiff breeze.  I get that same feeling when I observe a bird in flight.  

It can be quite the photographic challenge to capture a bird in flight at just the right moment.  I like that it’s not easy.  It makes it all that much more rewarding when I manage to “freeze” a moment that I consider paint worthy.  

Of course I find myself thinking all of my shots would be better if I only had more pixels and or a bigger zoom lens.  Seeing some of the bazooka size telephoto lenses out there that some birders use has given me camera envy!  Anyway, a poor craftsman blames his tools, right?

On a cold and windy morning I was treated to an aerial acrobatic display by two mature Bald Eagles over the Chickahominy River.  They were having fun together, most likely going through a mating ritual.  Strong and powerful birds, they frolicked close together seemingly unaffected by the gusty winds.  

Eagles in flight, photograph by William R. Beebe

Eagles in flight, photograph by William R. Beebe

This juvenile Bald Eagle had a very impressive wingspan.  I was just beneath some lob-lolly pines, seeking camouflage when the eagle spotted me.  I felt the direct eye contact and knew I only had a brief moment to get off a picture or two.  I believe this juvenile is one of the offspring of the two eagles frolicking in the wind that day.

Juvenile Bald Eagle, photograph by William R. Beebe

Juvenile Bald Eagle, photograph by William R. Beebe

On another outing I was positioned in the same area and this mature Bald Eagle gave me the eye!  The light was filtering through the eagle’s tail feathers and its lower wing, adding to the drama of the moment and creating something almost spiritual.  

Eagle with back-light, photograph by William R. Beebe

Eagle with back-light, photograph by William R. Beebe

Recently I’ve been observing two Ospreys beginning a nest in a cypress tree.  Their landings and take-offs create spectacular sights.  The Osprey has the ability to hover like a helicopter and gradually lower itself down to a nest.  It also has the ability to hover high above the water in order to spot a fish near the water’s surface.  Once committed the Osprey swoops down and actually enters the water grabbing the fish in its long sharp talons and with a rapid increase of wing speed takes off to a nearby landing site to enjoy its next meal.

Osprey landing with fish, photograph by William R. Beebe

Osprey landing with fish, photograph by William R. Beebe

Osprey leaving nest with fish, photograph by William R. Beebe

Osprey leaving nest with fish, photograph by William R. Beebe

Hovering Osprey, photograph by William R. Beebe

Hovering Osprey, photograph by William R. Beebe

Osprey exiting water with fish, photograph by William R. Beebe

Osprey exiting water with fish, photograph by William R. Beebe

The Great Blue Heron in flight is unusual in that sometimes it can appear quite gangly, while at other times it appears stealth-like and surprisingly graceful.  The wide wingspan of blue and gray feathers is something to behold and very impressive to watch.  

Great Blue Heron in flight, photograph by William R. Beebe

Great Blue Heron in flight, photograph by William R. Beebe

The Great White Egret somehow almost always appears to fly with elegance and grace.  

White Egret on take-off, photograph by William R. Beebe

White Egret on take-off, photograph by William R. Beebe

Whether it is a large bird of prey, a shorebird, a songbird, or a tiny hummingbird, seeing them in flight can be like watching poetry in motion.  Conveying that movement on canvas in a believable representation can add life to a painting and hopefully touch its viewers on an emotional level.

Hummingbird on a Hibiscus, photograph by William R. Beebe

Hummingbird on a Hibiscus, photograph by William R. Beebe

I know I’m inspired, awed and amazed by observing these birds in flight.  Even if I choose to paint a bird in quiet repose, being aware of the bird’s capabilities adds energy to my brushwork, hopefully producing a stronger, more life-like representation.

Being inspired to paint isn’t just a blessing to an artist, but also a great way to start the workday!


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