A few months ago I started work on a trilogy of paper illustrations of extinct North American birds. I say three but in reality it ended up being two - and then I exhibited the two as a pair as part of a show by the art collaborative I'm part of 'Fabula Tres'.
Since being given the 'Doomsday Book of Animals' as a child by my nan I have been fascinated by animal extinction, when they became extinct, did they disappear in captivity or in the wild and whether a question mark hangs over their status as extinct or if sightings continue, albeit unconfirmed. It was quite a heavy (both in size and content) read for a young boy but it made a significant impact on me.
The two complete illustrations I put on show depicted the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet. The story of the Passenger Pigeon is well known - a bird so numerous flocks would take hours to fly by a single spot. The Carolina Parakeet is probably less recognised but the two birds share the same sad tale of the last single specimen of each dying in captivity in the same Cincinnati zoo. I am particularly fond of parrots and for me the story of this birds demise also stuck with me. As I mentioned my original idea was to have three birds produced a set, I had wanted to make an artistic representation of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker for a number of years, a large, black and white avian with red head feathers that was believed to have vanished around the 1940s. This a was a bird included in my book but made mention of the possibility of it's survival. With several reported sightings over the last few years and its status classified as 'critically endangered' I decided that including an illustration of it as part of this select three would be bad practice as I am want to believe that this creature still exists!
With the exhibition looming and wanting the two illustrations I had completed a feature of my part of the exhibition I decided to continue without a third piece. Now, a couple months on from that exhibition I have revisited this project and produced that third design. When I was much younger I read about the extinction of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow in the late 1980s. It was hard to get my head around the story: bird that was known to be on the decline but yet had adapted to a specific environment that (I'm guessing) didn't lend itself to a successful captive breeding programme. Having read about all the creatures in my book that although included more recent disappearances - the Bali tiger for instance - I felt sad that all the human mistakes from previous centuries that saw off the likes of the Dodo and Stellers Sea Cow had not been learned from. A bird I had never heard of since and one that most people never will do and it was gone, forever. And so the Dusky Seaside Sparrow became my third, feathered fatality in my illustrative series.