Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella): Barry Kent MacKay

The Asian Fairy Bluebird is found through much of southern Asia, including Indonesia and the islands of Borneo, Sumatra and the Andamans. I saw it in the wild in Borneo, where they have elongated upper tail coverts, unlike those found further west, including tropical India. The females and immature birds are all over a sort of bluish-green colour, but the adult male, such as the one I’ve shown in my painting, are brilliant, metallic blue above, and velvety black below.  The glistening blue derives from the specialized microstructure of the blue feathers, which have a vaguely enamel-like feel to them. Brilliant in sunlight, in forest shade the blue and black combination can provide excellent camouflage.

There is a closely related species endemic to the Philippines, called the Philippine Fairy Bluebird (Icyanogastra) and the two species make up the family they are now placed in, the Irenidae. Both species eat wild figs, berries and other fruits and arthropods, especially when feeding young. The normally lay two eggs in a cup-shaped nest in a tree or sapling.

This is one of my favourite “pandemic paintings”, done during the Covid-19 pandemic lock-down, not because if it my “best”, but because in its simplicity it does what I achingly wanted to do when I was a child, struggling for competence in the practice of painting birds, and also desirous to illustrate not only the North American species I saw so often portrayed by great bird artists and illustrators of my era, but the exotic species I hoped to one day see, in their native haunts. And while it emulates, is in fact something of an homage to, the classic bird book illustrations of my mid-20th century childhood, it also is distinctive in that it is in oils, not the watercolour and gouache normally employed by my childhood bird artist heroes.

The painting, life size, is in oils on compressed wood panel and is 12 X 9 inches.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

1 thought on “Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella): Barry Kent MacKay

  1. Marilyn Bunker

    The colours and detail of the Asian Fairy Bluebird painting are so beautifully done. And I enjoyed the written description. Well done. Thanks to both of you.


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