For the Birds Radio Program: Birds in Public Art

Original Air Date: Oct. 6, 2005 Rerun Dates: Dec. 6, 2005

Birds feature in a lot of public art throughout the world.

Duration: 4′13″


Birds are so important to human beings in so many ways that they figure enormously­ and I mean that literally-in public art works from all over the world. We’ve been talking about birds in public art this week on the national Bird Chat listserv, and people have been sending me photos of examples from all over the US—and even of a giant falcon in Bahrain. Of course, much bird artwork is about domesticated birds, from the Big Duck on the Long Island Expressway in Flanders, New York, to the big chicken right outside Two Harbors, Minnesota. But a lot of bird art is about wild birds. One of my favorites is the huge loon in Mercer, Wisconsin—the poor thing is grounded, stuck there regardless of whether the air is astir with apple blossom petals, autumn leaves, or snowflakes. But even if the statue can’t migrate or swim like any real loon, it’s remarkably well done, befitting the town that calls itself the Loon Capital of the World.

Rothsay, Minnesota, has a giant Prairie Chicken statue–as in the case of Mercer, I especially appreciate it when a city chooses a bird mascot that is both characteristic of the area and charismatic. An Osprey is the subject of another Long Island example of avian public art–Roberto Julio Bessin created a 25-foot bronze sculpture titled “Morning Call,” for Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding-it’s constructed on a 20-foot steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center disaster, and manages to honor the September 11 tragedy with its uplifting yet somber design while showing the fairly realistic beauty of this species, one that is both beloved and recovering, itself, from another kind of disaster that left it on the edge of extinction in New York.

So far I’ve found Sandhill Cranes in two examples of public art. One is a rather primitive sculpture from an undisclosed site in North Dakota, the other a whimsical gathering of cranes fashioned from various machine parts in Arlington, Wisconsin, at Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond Sanctuary. One of the more beloved and realistic depictions of a bird is of a huge Roadrunner in Fort Stockton, Texas, affectionately called “Paisano Pete.” ‘

Mio, Michigan, has a monument to Kirtland’s Warbler, an endangered species that had in the 1970s dropped to fewer than 200 pairs in the world, but with care, thanks to the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act and aggressive action by.the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, and the Wisconsin DNR has increased many fold since then. The lovely bronze plaque honoring the Passenger Pigeon in Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin is sadder-it makes note of the fact that the last wild Passenger Pigeon known to exist on the planet was shot and killed in Babcock, Wisconsin, in September, 1899. Eighteen years later the last living Passenger Pigeon, a lone female at the Cincinnati Zoo, named Martha, would die, rendering the species extinct.

I still need photos of a lot of avian public art, like the California Gull statue that depicts the species credited with saving the Mormon settlement in Salt Lake City when their crops were being devastated by a plague of grasshoppers. I’ve been putting all the photos on a gallery at If you have a photo of outdoor public bird art you’ d like to share, email it to .