Bird of the Day: Oystercatcher

I painted an oystercatcher very early on in my gouache journey when using the white paper as the white part of the bird was what interested me. I love the striking plumage of oystercatchers with that bright orange bill and pink legs, and this one was generously framed for me by Jealous Gallery in Shoreditch.

Oystercatchers are long-lived birds and partner for life, where the pair can breed for well over 10 years. They are common around our shorelines here in the UK where they are resident all year round, and they eat worms and bivalves buried in the sand. That said, it is well-documented that oystercatchers adopt one of 3 different feeding types, which the chicks learn from their parents. The characteristic long orange bill is used for probing worms and deeply-buried bivalves, or precisely stabbing between the two shells of a surface bivalve to remove the flesh, or simply hammering a hole in the shell to pick out the squishy bit inside. The birds’ bills will reflect their feeding choice, although they can adapt to a new feeding regime if need be.

Oystercatchers are a popular choice for artists, I presume as they have such defined markings and are so accessible. Being a water bird is always going to be a pull for us creative types, and the contrast between the muted colours of the sea or river, smooth texture of sand or mud, and then *bam* – this astonishing bird is difficult to resist. They look beautiful whether they are standing, feeding, or in flight, and they mass in groups or stay in their pairs, or potter about singly so are a valuable muse, and I have both painted and printed them. They are so familiar and iconic that they work well when simplified, lending themselves to prints, and naïve or abstract representation.

Below are the various incarnations I have produced of the European oystercatcher. Which one do you like best?

Triptych in gouache on Khadi paper
Linocut print from a photo by Pete Carr

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