Bundled up with my walking stick in hand, I head out each morning for a brisk stroll. During the winter months when the trees display their trunks and branches like dark lines on a white sheet of paper, I play the “nest game.” Bird’s nests are now visible in the crooks of branches and wedged amongst brambles. Weather–rain, snow and wind–causes unfurling, and strands of straw and grass hang and move in the breeze, and it is this movement that I catch out of the corner of my eye, stopping me in my tracks, so that I may examine the nest. The nests are made of varying materials, and come in all shapes and sizes. Without binoculars it becomes hard to see the details, but happily one can reference America’s Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser.
Kiser explains in her Preface that she happened upon a display featuring a copy of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History en route to begin her new job as an assistant librarian. Perhaps it was the visual juxtaposition of the oversized book next to the tiny label that caused her examination. The label “explained that the book was the accomplishment of the Jones family of Ohio: the daughter, Genevieve, had conceived of the idea and had begun drawing and painting the illustrations with the assistance of a childhood friend: the son, Howard, had collected the nests and eggs; the father, Nelson, had paid the publishing costs; and after Genevieve died, the mother, Virginia, and the rest of the family spent eight years completing the work as a memorial to Genevieve.”
It is no wonder that Kiser lingered at the display, for each delicate plate shows a nest rendered in exquisite detail in its natural setting, as well as the Latin and common name of occupying bird. Rows of eggs are drawn and painted to scale with three views per oval. We are treated to informative text with poetical descriptions of the birds, their nests, eggs and habits (flying pattern, songs, mating, nocturnal or not, etc,).
One of my favorite plates shows the nest of the Parus atricapillus (the Black-capped Chickadee) in a cut away view inside a tree trunk. Chickadees place their nests in the cavity of a tree and it “…is composed entirely of moss and very fine downy feathers, the lining being similar to the exterior except that the fibers are more numerous within.” A perfect bowl of moss lined in feathers–what more could one want? Of course, the Chickadee’s nest will be much harder for me to see on my morning walks, for only the exterior hole is evident to the passerby. I will watch more closely the openings, ever hopeful to see one emerge from a nest hole.
Likewise, I will keep my eyes alert at yard sales and antiquarian bookstores for a copy of the original book made by the Jones family. Kiser notes only twenty-six of the fifty-three hand colored copies and eight of the thirty-seven uncolored have been located. Pay attention.
Joy M. Kiser, America’s Other Audubon, (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), pgs. 10,13, 160-161.
Note: Kiser’s full introduction as well as selected plates are on view on line courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries—http://www.sil.si.edu/ondisplay/nestsandeggs/index.htm