Whistling Ducks | Richard Tiberius & Kiry Tiberius

Black-bellied whistling ducks are native to Florida where my daughter and I used to have our studio. We saw this pair in a nature preservation area. They appeared to be very relaxed, engaging in personal hygiene like preening. They didn’t seem to show any of the skittish behavior often displayed by ground birds who must remain alert to predators. One reason for their laid-back style may have been their location, on a little island in the middle of a pond. A ground predator would have to swim over to reach them. They were also protected from aerial predators by several huge black mangrove trees overhead. I painted the so-called “knees” of the black mangrove trees popping up all over the island.

Whistling Ducks detail
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I enjoyed painting the background, intentionally rendering the reeds in a rough style to provide contrast with the birds’ velvety, smooth feathers. Painting knives are the perfect tools for  producing this kind of texture. Kiry was fascinated with the subtle blending of colors and forms of each of the different types of feathers. She depicted the texture of the fine body feathers by cutting hundreds of fine, long, parallel streaks into the paint with the edge of her knife blade. The result is a velvety appearance, contrasting with the rough background. These birds nest in tree cavities, when possible. As the abundance of old, hollow trees becomes more scarce, they are increasingly nesting in human made next boxes, according to the Audubon website. Let’s give a shout-out to those who construct these nesting boxes so that we can enjoy such beauty.

Roseate Spoonbills in the Mangrove Shallows, Evening Light | Richard Tiberius & Kiry Tiberius

18 x 30 in. | 45.7 x 76.2 cm – oil on panel, painted with knives

Detail image
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Spoonbills feed in shallow water by sweeping their partly opened bill from side to side, snapping it shut when an insect, tiny fish, crab or shrimp touches the inside of the bill.

We saw this pair wading through the shallows between the mangrove islands in the Florida Everglades National Park. Some species of Spoonbills reproduce in large flocks but most species mate with a single partner each breeding season and choose a new partner for the next season. Although we don’t know which of these species we have painted, they do look like a happy couple.

A mangrove is not the name of a specific tree or shrub. It’s a name given to several plants that grow in shallow coastal waters. The red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is the dominant plant in this painting. Red Mangroves have what are called “prop roots” that grow out of the trunk and into the water. This growth pattern creates shallow water by trapping sand and mud so storms cannot wash it away. And the tangle of roots provides a safe habitat for the tiny organisms that are the Spoonbill’s food.

“Prop roots” are illustrated by the young red mangrove on the right side of the painting. It looks as though it is standing on stilts. In time, this little tree may be the beginning of a new island.

On slightly higher ground, further from the water, the black and white mangroves live. You can see the white mangroves sticking out of the top of the island.

It was a tranquil and beautiful evening. The sun had already set, leaving behind a soft, pink glow to the clouds and reflections in the water as if it were borrowing color from the brilliant pink feathers of the spoonbills.