Birding Life List: 1-49

This is a subpage of: Birding Life List

Out of a possible 49 birds on this list, I’ve painted 17 so far.

This page is set aside for paintings of the first 49 birds I recorded seeing in ebird. My first 49 birds covers my first year birding (from October 2013 to October 2014.) All of these were sighted in Massachusetts or Maine. If you live in the Northeast U.S. and you’re looking for a list of common birds to begin learning local birds, this is a pretty solid list!

1. Great Blue Heron

So far my only paintings of my “spark bird”, Great Blue Heron, are faraway silhouettes. I’ll have to do a closeup some time…

2. American Crow

As common as crows are, I’m delighted every time I see/hear one. They’re so smart, cool, and goth; adding them to any painting quickly adds a sense of atmosphere.

3. European Starling

European Starling. January 27, 2024.

As ubiquitous as this bird is in cities across the world, including mine, I didn’t know the name of it until I started my birdwatching hobby. I must have seen hundreds and thousands of them, but I just thought of them vaguely as “birds.”

Starlings are much maligned in North America because they’re non-native and have adapted so well to urban environments that they push out native birds. But that is not their fault, and humans are definitely mostly at fault for the decline of native birds, especially in urban environments. Like many seemingly dull city birds, starlings are actually quite beautiful and iridescent in the right light.

I initially painted just the one bird, but then I realized you never see just one starling, so I added the background birds.

5. Common Grackle

Common Grackle. March 10, 2024. Reference photo from Houston Audublog.

One of my first birdwatching checklists came from my first trip to Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, MA. As I was rolling up one April mid-afternoon, an older birdwatcher with binoculars was leaving, and excitedly gestured to the trees behind him. “Grackles!!!” he cried with delight.

I knew grackles were a common bird, but wasn’t experienced enough with birdwatching to know whether there was some reason for him to be particularly excited in that moment. Was it an unusual time of year to see them? I oohed and aahed.

Ten years later, I still have no idea. April is a totally normal time to see grackles in Boston. As I write this, it’s March and they’ve been back for weeks. Most local birdwatchers don’t get excited about grackles (or won’t admit to it, anyway). But I have a lot of retrospective appreciation for that guy. I love someone who gets excited about normal things.

7. Canada Goose

Canada geese V. Watercolor sky; gouache geese. December 26, 2023.

I noted these on one of my first ever birdwatching checklists. They’re one of the most ubiquitous birds in parks, ponds, strips of grass along the highway, and in the soundscape. HONK HONK HONK!

8. Mallard

Female Mallard at Fresh Pond. May 27, 2023.

Mallards are also everywhere, all the time! Also one of the birds from my first-ever checklists.

12. Blue Jay

Blue jay. January 13, 2024.

A very common backyard bird on the East Coast. This bird is so common to me that I was amused when I ran into a tourist couple from England who were excited to see them, but I understood how they felt when I went to the West Coast!

14. American Robin

American Robin. October 13, 2021.

This is quite an early painting for me, done about six months after I first picked up a paintbrush, and represents my first bird painting.

15. Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged blackbird. February 15, 2024.

This is how I always see red-winged blackbirds: screaming in some reeds!

17. Northern Cardinal

A very common bird in Massachusetts and one that’s even more gorgeous in the winter, when its red feathers are reddest and really pop against gray or snowy backdrops.

21. Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows in Lusitania Meadow, Fresh Pond, Cambridge. May 24, 2023.

A regular summer resident in Massachusetts, especially cute to find sticking their heads out of tree swallow boxes in local parks.

24. Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole in a walnut tree, Fresh Pond. On Lanaquarelle Cold Press. May 13, 2023.

Summer residents that make themselves VERY seen and heard with their blaze orange color and megaphone-loud song. Despite finding them so obvious and un-ignorable now, I never observed them until I started birding.

26. Mourning Dove

A common one for my area, and one of the few birds I could recognize by sound as a child – and one of the few I still can hear!

28. Rock Pigeon

Pigeon flock. December 16, 2023.

Although I didn’t record seeing any pigeons until six months into birding, that’s probably because they’re just so numerous they fade into the background – and I’m usually not recording an ebird list when I’m waiting for the subway or walking down a city street!

29. Herring Gull

The gulls in these paintings are fairly nonspecific, but herring gulls are the most common in Massachusetts.

33. Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird at Danehy Park, Cambridge. May 17, 2023.

These birds can be hard to love because they’re obligate parasite nesters, but everyone has a place in the great web of life. The males boldly mix brown and black while the females look extremely nondescript.

49. Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed junco, with blues & browns palette. March 2, 2024.

Dark-eyed juncos are only in Massachusetts in winter. To me, these are the quintessential winter bird. It blew my mind when I saw one just slightly north in Vermont in summer.