Ring-necked Pheasant; Mallard; Canada Goose: 3 Common Bird species, portrayed: Barry Kent MacKay

These three recent oil paintings, all done smaller than life size, show some of the world’s best known, widely distributed wild bird species, and in all three I was kind of channeling 19th century, Victorian and immediate post-Victorian British-European bird painting techniques in oils, albeit using modern materials, including acrylic underpainting. These are also species that are widely more or less domesticated or kept captive, and that have been “introduced” beyond their natural range to become established on other continents, and which are prone to hybridization.

The Ring-necked Pheasant originated in eastern Europe and much of Asia, but being highly edible, ornamental, and easily hunted they have been widely naturalized in many other regions, including North America. They are hugely variable with many subspecies (about thirty!) and plenty of variations and mutations occurring in nature, as well as a result of domestication. 

This painting is 16 by 20 inches in oils on birch.

The Mallard’s natural distribution includes a large swath of the northern hemisphere, from subarctic to subtropical regions.  They will migrate from areas that freeze over, but spend the winter where food and some open water is available. They have been established in parts of Australia, New Zealand, South America, the Falklands, and South Africa. They are also variable, also given to hybridization with related duck species, and, like the former species, have been domesticated for thousands of years. Most of the domestic ducks you see are Mallards, showing amazing variety in size, shape colour and patterns.  Like many migratory ducks from the higher latitudes, they show considerable sexual dimorphism, and the males have a “female-like” summer plumage called the “eclipse” plumage. I have shown a male from the fall, as it is molting from eclipse plumage to breeding plumage. As I have tried to show molt can make them a little raggedy, but unlike some land birds (like the jays and cardinals in my garden who sometimes go nearly bald in August) they must maintain full body plumage to avoid heat loss in cold weather, and so the molt period in the fall can be quite prolonged, maintaining the body contours without breaks or bald patches.  This is an oil painting on a 12 by 12 inch square of birch.

The Canada Goose was originally endemic to North America, plus the Kamchatka Peninsula of eastern Siberia, and extreme eastern China, but individuals were taken from Canada to Europe as early as the 17th Century and are now well established in much of the UK and Europe, as well as New Zealand. This species can hybridize with related species, but less frequently so than the previous two.  As is true of the Mallard, when not persecuted as a game bird these geese can become very acclimatized to the presence of people. I see (and hear) them daily here in Markham, and I chose to do this little study of a bird, not in the dramatic, wilderness setting, or flying against a dramatic cloudscape as most artists show them,

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

Purchase, print, product info: https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/barry-mackay 


31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *