Nancy’s Bird Nests

Nancy Spahr’s current exhibit of multi-media bird nests in Staunton, Virginia, is simultaneously inspiring and delightful…and disturbing.

Delightful because she combines surprising detail, careful research, and creative combinations of materials and media in her art work.

Take a look at one of her “assemblages”: basically a variation of a shadow box that contains an abandoned nest, 3D printed and hand-painted eggs, an image of a chipping sparrow superimposed on old dictionary paper.

Chipping Sparrow assemblage

Nancy emphasizes in her artist’s statement that all of her bird nests were collected well after the nesting cycle of the birds was completed. She made sure not to interfere with nature by researching each bird’s habits. Any feathers or wing parts used in her works are either from domestic fowl or found dead birds.

I particularly liked this painting of a robin’s nest cradled in the curves of an antler, the softness of the round nest held by the hard, spiky strength of the antlers.

Nest on deer antler

Another emotionally evocative piece was this mixed media construction of a robin mama guarding her nest:

Robin guarding her nest

The following piece, created with the use of oil, tar, sand and feathers, represents a barn swallow nest aptly entitled “Feathering Your Nest.” Nancy described how a pair of barn swallows built a nest from mud pellets, straw, grasses and poultry feathers inside a barn right above her work table. She had to move the table to avoid disturbing the swallow parents as they tended first to the eggs, then to the baby birds until they were ready to leave the nest.

Barn swallow nest

Then there was the disturbing part of the exhibit, city nests that incorporated trash we humans drop mindlessly wherever we go:

House sparrow city nest

When you look closely, you can see the cigarette butts woven into the nest! While research has shown that the chemicals in these cigarette butts may actually deter ticks and mites, they can also cause physical damage to the birds.

Lastly, the largest art piece was entitled “Is This The Bird’s Future?” incorporating familiar throw-away trash.

Is this the bird’s future?

A close-up:

What have we done to our world?!

To see more of Nancy Spahr’s art:

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Bird watching – flagrant voyeurism

A huge wild cherry tree near our house broke into full bloom around the middle of May. 


Baltimore Oriole coupleSo when I saw a pair of Baltimore Orioles cavorting in its branches, I thought they were eating the cherry blossoms.  In the past, I’ve caught only glimpses of these orioles, a rare sight in the spring.  But now I started seeing them every day.  The flashes of bright orange yellow through the spring green canopy were easy to spot.
The more I watched the pair, the more I wondered why they seemed to return to the same place in the tree, the edge of some hanging branches.  The aha moment was thrilling…they were building a nest!

This is no ordinary nest! It is large and spacious, a woven sack suspended from the cherry tree branches. I had seen a nest like this on someone else’s property before. For years, I kept looking for one on my property, without success. And just like that, a nest was materializing before my very eyes, in viewing distance from my front porch. The gods had granted me my wish.

About a week later, as the cherry blossoms were way past their prime, I mostly saw the male flitting back and forth while the female must have started laying her eggs. Here you can see the male with food in its beak sitting close to the nest.

male oriole with food by nest

He then hopped on the opening of the nest and may have been feeding his wife sitting on her eggs.

male on top of nest

However, every once in a while, the missus was out and about herself and managed to catch a big, fat caterpillar here:

female oriole with caterpillar

One morning, as I sipped my coffee on the porch, I saw a small bird chasing a larger bird of prey. Through my binoculars, I recognized the male oriole who defended his territory against a potential nest robber. He was brave and fierce, dive bombing the much larger bird…and victorious in chasing the other bird away.

Watching this pair of orioles construct their home and defend it against would-be invaders has been a true gift. It made me think of all the work and effort that we invested in building our home, our own cozy nest, and how privileged we are to be enjoying its comforts and safety….along with the front seat voyeur’s view of the wildlife around us.

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Dialogue with the Body

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Originally posted on The Beauty Along the Road:
I watched two swans go through their lengthy preening process, cleaning and smoothing their feathers with the help of their beak. How did they know which feathers needed tidying up and re-arranging?…

Gallery | 7 Comments

The Dance of the Peacock

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Originally posted on The Beauty Along the Road:
Stranded in Florida for 24 hours because the airline cancelled my connecting flight, I found the nearest botanical gardens for entertainment. Indian peacocks paraded around the grounds delighting visitors with their size…

Gallery | 16 Comments

A Burst of Color in Winter

When I look out my window and see the bright colors of our wood shed, it makes me smile.

Winter’s color palette is notoriously limited, especially on a dreary, sunless day.

A reminder of summer’s vivid tones helps to soothe the longing for warmer weather.

Debbie’s Six Word Saturday.


Posted in Appalachia | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments