Artist Elizabeth Kinahan poses with her paintings at Studio & on Sunday afternoon. Kinahan, known for her animal paintings, began painting birds during a one-week residency at Willowtail Springs in Mancos this past summer. Kinahan will teach a class about backyard birding at Willowtail on Nov. 1./ Photo by Jennaye Derge

A bird in the hand

Artist Elizabeth Kinahan turns talents to birds and the ecosystem
by Stew Mosberg  
Last June, local artist and animal advocate Elizabeth Kinahan received a Durango Arts Center artist-in-residence grant. The award allowed her to spend one week at Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center, in Mancos. For Kinahan, a more appropriate setting to inspire her creativity would be difficult to find.
Best known for her personality-rich paintings of farm animals, she is a generous supporter of animal and environmental causes. The 60 acres of Willowtail Springs, owned by fellow artist Peggy Cloy and her husband, Lee, is comprised of three well-appointed cabins, a barn, artist studio and a gallery/meeting space. The latter will be the scene of an upcoming presentation by Kinahan on birds and our shared environment.
“I wanted to do something out of the ordinary for me, and studying birds was certainly not something I had done before,” said Kinahan. “Willowtail is (frequented) by a wide variety of both resident and migratory birds, and I thought it would be a perfect location to delve into this new world.”
The artist started her residency at Willowtail with no set directive or plan, instead allowing the surroundings to inspire her creativity. It wasn’t long before she began to notice the variety of winged creatures that call the area home. The trilling and cawing along with the flashes of color and flittering in the trees became her muse for a series of bird portraits that were recently exhibited at Studio &, where she is a collaborative partner. That show was a virtual sell-out.

A close-up of one of Kinahan’s bird paintings, inspired by her time at Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve in Mancos./ Photo by Jennaye Derge

On Nov. 1, from 1- 3 p.m.. Kinahan will share her experiences and findings at a workshop, “Supporting Backyard Birds” at Willowtail. The event will delve into the most appropriate and environmentally sensitive methods to fashion a healthy living environment for our fine feathered friends.
“I have always believed in the importance of protecting wildlife, and helping them survive through the continual loss of habitat that they face,” she said. “Food sources and nesting grounds are getting sparser, and it’s all because of human encroachment.”
 Attendees can expect to learn a great deal about the needs of birds, their importance to the ecosystem and the ways in which we can help them, Kinahan said. The workshop will cover descriptions of different types of feeders and the benefits of each; the varieties of feed available and what species of birds they attract; and the importance of vegetation and what types are best. In addition, she will talk about problems for birds in the backyard setting, such as hitting windows or being attacked by predators, and what to do if you find a fledgling, or an injured or dead bird.
 Additionally, the artist will address the do’s and don’ts of providing water for birds and ideas for building and maintaining nests and roost boxes, along with strategic placement of feeders, baths and boxes, and how to provide nesting materials in the springtime.


What: “Supporting Backyard Birds,” a workshop by artist Elizabeth Kinahan
When: Sat., Nov. 1, 1-3 p.m.
Where: Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center, Mancos

She believes assisting them is easy to do and good for the ecosystem. “It is incredibly satisfying to know that you may be helping that little bird survive through a long winter, or a labor-intensive spring,” she said. “The more birds that survive, the more vegetation gets planted; and the more vegetation that grows, the healthier our planet will be.”
Not wanting to reveal the entire course, Kinahan however shared some facts about birds that many readers may not be aware of. For example, she points out that while birds need water for drinking they also use it to keep their feathers clean so they can fly properly and stay free of parasites. As such, she will describe different types of bird baths that can be made and ways to ensure the bird’s safety.  

As part of her two-hour presentation, Kinahan will include detailed instructions for building nest boxes such as appropriate hole size and box dimensions for different types of birds. She will define the differences between nest boxes and roost boxes and give specifications for constructing both. And, in an attempt to make life easier for the birds, she will discuss nesting materials such as hair, moss, plant fluff, small twigs, dry leaves, and how to make them available for our feathered friends.
Kinahan is ever grateful to the DAC and Willowtail Springs for having provided her with so much inspiration, which is why she decided to have her talk at the retreat. “I want people to see a bird sanctuary in action, and I want people to experience the place that is so special to me.”
The class is limited to 12 people and a donation of $20 is encouraged. All contributions go to Willowtail Springs. To sign up and for directions to Willowtail Springs email: 

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