Yarn Birds

By: Christy Esmahan, Travis Audubon Board Member

I was thrilled when I read “These Knit Birds Are Helping to Move the Needle on Conservation” in the Summer 2019 edition of the National Audubon Magazine. The article describes how Nicky Fijalkowska helps to raise awareness of the large variety of bird species that are endangered and in need of conservation by knitting likenesses of them, especially shorebirds such as the Blue-footed Booby, curlews, puffins and the Pied Avocet.

But, on a more personal note, I was also excited to see another birder making yarn birds. You see, I LOVE to crochet and have recently graduated from making generic amigurumi parrots to designing a small collection of birds of Central Texas. It’s really fun! I use YouTube tutorials to get the basic body shape, and then tailor the colors based on images from field guides, eBird and photos on Flickr.

And I must say, there’s nothing like trying to create an artistic rendition of a bird to really make one stare at, and learn more deeply about, the coloring and shape of said bird. If you had asked me to describe a male Painted Bunting without looking at a photo, I would have told you about the bright blue head, the red chest, the yellow wings, and green flanks. But what color is the tail, exactly? Red? Blue? Purple? Actually, different individuals have varying amounts of these colors, and from a distance, the tail can almost look gray. Even the yellow wings are not uniformly colored but change as they taper. And did I mention the red rump? It’s not something I had noticed before.

The Monk Parakeet was easier to make as it only took two colors, but again, after staring at photos I realized that the coloring was far more complex than I had thought. The wings, for instance, are a different shade of green than the flank. And most birds have a white forehead, but not all. For that matter, the “white” isn’t really white, but a very light shade of gray. And that tail—it’s much longer than a Painted Bunting’s.

The most difficult bird I’ve tried to crochet so far, and perhaps fittingly so, is Travis Audubon’s iconic logo, the Golden-cheeked Warbler. Of all the potential habitats on the planet, this little bird will only breed in the mixed Ashe Juniper and Oak forests of Central Texas. Attempting to replicate its complicated yellow and black facial pattern stitch by stitch is not easy. I made three different prototypes before I finally decided that the last one was close enough.

But I’m already dreaming about my next projects: woodpeckers, hummingbirds, titmice, chickadees, shrikes…oh, and that adorable little American Woodcock that appeared in St. Edward’s Park this summer.

If you like to knit or crochet, look up some tutorials, get creative and enjoy learning more about your favorite birds without braving those triple-digit August temperatures!