Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus): Barry Kent MacKay

he Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) is a migratory species that nests in eastern Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard, appearing in winter in much of Northwestern Europe and the UK. It was a popular species for the late Sir Peter Scott to include in his famous paintings of waterfowl, and I only wish I could match his artistic skill. The pinkfoot, as it is often called by birders and hunters, is one of the group of geese in either the genus Branta, or Anser, (and sometimes switched by taxonomists from one to the other) that are collectively thought of as the “grey geese”, and include our own Brant, Canada Goose, Cackling Goose and several others. 

This painting was used for the cover of the current issue of (Vol 38, No 2) of Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologist. I’m honoured to do many of their covers, and this one was inspired by the first ever documented appearance of a Pink-footed Goose in eastern Ontario, seen and beautifully photographed by Jacques Bouvier, in company with many Snow and Canada Geese, on a sod farm on October 30, 2015. Bouvier and Bruce Di Labio documented the event for Ontario Birds. Eleven years earlier a pinkfoot had been documented for Quebec, just a kilometer across the border from Ontario. Expect more sightings.

This is a middle sized goose, that weighs in around 1.8 to 3.4 kg (4 to 7 ½ pounds) and when one sees large numbers of them, it is obviously that they are rather variable in colour and pattern, with distinctive patterns of pink and blackish-grey on their stubby beaks.  I didn’t know the exact pattern of the Ontario bird so based my painting on photos I had taken in England. I was tempted to paint the bird in a flock, as that is how one normally sees them, but since the article discussed a solitary bird, I chose just a single individual, featuring it prominently.  But I had fun with the background, showing three duck species that might co-exist with pinkfeet in Europe, the Northern Shoveler and the Gadwall, both also found in Canada, and the European Wigeon, which is more likely to be seen in Europe, but has shown up in Canada, so the painting could show either side of the Atlantic. In the far background I roughly sketched in phragmites, (European common reed), which is native to Eurasia but widely found over hear and reviled as an “invasive” species by many a conservationist. 

Thinking of Peter Scott, who usually painted in oils but effectively employed many media I decides to use a sort of mezzotint approach to the painting, covering acid-free compressed hardboard (Masonite) with gesso, then spraying it with an acrylic paint that contains flecks of hard acrylic, designed to create a stone-like texture, then sandpapering it vigorously and covering it with a pale yellow tone of acrylic, upon which I did the actual painting, creating, I hoped, an atmospheric feel, with some of the acrylic underpainting coming through.  I made the white line on the flank of the goose and the brightness of the feet a bit more intense than they would be with the kind of near back-lighting because in the field those features stand out and so I emphasized them. The painting is 20 by 16 inches.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada


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