I'm writing and revising a chapter that deals in part with Mark Catesby's bird illustrations (mid 1700s), so I thought I'd take a look at what Catesby does with the robin. Wow.
In a recent article in Birding, Rick Wright talks about a similarly illustrated dead swallow. In an edition of the Princeton Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, the authors paint a swallow dead on the ground, and Wright makes a number of points: among them, that dead birds are weird in a field guide as they disrupt the illusion that bird illustration (and ornithology, by relation) are not only harmless to birds but somehow environmentalist in nature.
Funny: a lot of Catesby's supposedly alive birds look dead, but his dead robin looks amazingly life-like.
What is also particularly clever about what Catesby does is that, by placing the robin on its back with its feet in the air, you end up with a pretty nice look at the plumage.
Anyway, my newly hatched robins flew the coop yesterday. One at a time, the little buggers stood up on the edge of the nest before flapping off. We'll have to see if the folks go for another brood before the summer is out.