A Bird’s Tale

The Bird Life of Maine Craft Fairs

Wed, 11/13/2019 - 11:30am

The scary witches, contorted monster faces, and other Halloween decorations that scaried up our yard have been packed back up in a box in the attic and the now-mushy jack-o-lanterns have been tossed in the mulch pile. Our teen son has already the ski slopes of Sunday River, which opened for the season last Saturday. That means that we’re moving into that time of year when minds begin to look ahead to wintry family holiday time.

And that means it’s craft fair season.

We love going to the many different types of craft fairs that pop up around the state between now and December. Some are big, annual, professionally organized affairs at large auditoriums while others are in small, cozy places like churches or elementary schools and are run by local non-profits. We enjoy them all. It’s so heartening to see the creativity and initiative of local people who make things with their own hands. And doubly interesting to us is the fact that so many crafters include bird images in their work.

Just last weekend we stopped by several craft fairs. One crafter had created beautiful framed pieces that incorporated carefully preserved fall color maple leaves on which she had painted images—mostly birds. We were impressed especially with her rendition of a blue jay—a species that can be hard to depict very well. Of course, she also had some with favorites like northern cardinal and black-capped chickadee.

At another display, a clay artisan had made plates and mugs that included images of wild turkeys and bald eagles. Loons were featured prominently on a number of crafts. We picked up a holiday table runner with bright red cardinals displayed in a sea of green on one side.

Why do we humans like bird images on things that adorn and brighten our living spaces? Why do some birds appear more often than others?

We’ve never made a formal study of the question but our intuition tells us that bird images are like touchstones to familiar parts of the natural world that makes a person feel connected and settled. Some images may bring back memories of times spent with family, perhaps a summer at the lake with the sounds of loons echoing across the water.

The images that we see most often, and a scan around our own house, will give a sense of which birds seem to show up the most. We’ve already mentioned the loon. The puffin is pretty widespread in our house as well, on everything from wine glasses to book ends. At craft fairs, we tend to see cardinals and chickadees depicted most frequently, with a few bluebirds, blue jays, and goldfinches. Certain kinds of crafts—leather goods and wooden items—are more likely to include bald eagles, and maybe mallards. Almost all of the birds are ones that occur here in Maine all year.

We don’t see vultures or sparrows on many items, we can remember, though one of our favorite sets of cloth beverage coasters features crows. It seems fairly rare to come across brightly colored birds that spend only the summers here, although once in a while a craftsperson will include an image of a Baltimore oriole.

Photographers are one exception to this rule, as they will often have images of many more species. We kind of consider photography a bit of different category from those of the hand-made crafts.

Another exception is one of our favorite crafters. He makes hand-painted, wooden bird Christmas tree ornaments that include a large assortment of bird species, some that are not easy to depict. We have many of his bird ornaments including evening grosbeak, hooded merganser, and common tern—species that you won’t find in many other craft person’s work.

We are looking forward to the next craft fair to see what birds we can find!

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular book, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).