Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Purple Martin with Prey--Vickie Henderson

After many sessions of visiting a purple martin colony and observing from the roof of my car, I finally saw one of those enormous dragonflies held in a female martin's mouth as she brought the prey to her young.  Even though I have seen this in photographs, it was hard for me to believe the size of those dragonflies.   Even more fascinating is the fact that a nestling can swallow that size prey!
Martins are insectivores that fly at high speeds to capture insects in the air.  But I wasn't convinced dragonflies were that large in Tennessee!  I just had to see it for myself.

Below you see the painting I created by combining this observation with a different flight pose.  I used a lot of imagination to create this painting and its background, making every hour spent with the colony well worth the effort.  All that you observe while in the field gets internalized and comes out while you're painting.  Even though I have a plan of sorts in my head as I start, I never quite know what the finished result will be.
To see more about how I approached this painting, visit purple martins at Vickie's Sketchbook.  


  1. As you say, observation is so important Vickie, and observing from different angles, one can put those feathers in any position one wants! This is really a great demo and beautiful finished product, love it!

  2. Wonderful, Vickie! Ditto Maree...this is perfect! Martins have large mouths, don't they? Like swallows? Maybe that's how the young can deal with such a big bite!

  3. Thank you, everyone!

    Good point, Kate. Martins do have large mouths. Amazing that they fly for many hours and catch insects on the wing with large open mouths. So, it makes sense that the juveniles have a large gape capacity, as well. I'm sure like most birds, they break up the prey when the nestlings are tiny, but as they grow, a dragonfly is probably no problem.

  4. Beautiful movement! You have captured the flight!

  5. Thank you, Maria. They are certainly all about flight!

  6. Very nice! and your sketch and paintings brought back good memories for me. Four martins had recently fledged and begged from the top of a pole. Most of the prey brought in was dragonflies, but a smaller species. One of my photos shows three dragonflies in the adult's mouth at once!... How did that bird get three???

  7. Thank you, Mary!

    Elva, I'm with you. Amazing birds. I think they fly with mouths open to capture insects, but three dragonflies? Thanks for sharing that story.


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