I’ll Have the Goatsucker Plate


Chuck-will’s Widow, drawn from skins

Last week I finished up an illustration for Bird Watcher’s Digest’s ID Yourself. Julie Zickefoose has brilliantly helmed this feature for years, and for an upcoming issue, I did my humble best to keep the ship on course. Thanks to a team of crack bird art consultants (Jim Coe, Cindy House, Mike DiGiorgio and Barry Van Dusen, all field guide veterans) and Museum ornithologists (Gary Schnell, Amanda Person), I got it done, and on time, even (lucky for me; this weekend an ice storm has moved in and is going to keep me- and probably everyone else- from doing much traveling into early next week).

The text was the starting point; written by Alvaro Jaramillo, it described some of the finer points of separating out three North American goatsuckers: Chuck-will’s widow, Whippoorwill, and Poorwill. Since all three species occur here in Oklahoma, I have a personal interest in learning those distinctions myself. A big plus is that the Sam Noble Museum in Norman has all three in their collection.


A drawer full of Whippoorwills for a drawer of Whippoorwills (give it a moment).

First came the rough sketches, working from photos and memory (I’ve seen Chucks and Poorwills but haven’t been lucky enough to see a Whip).

Chuckwill’s Widow, Rough sketch #1
Chuckwill’s widow, Rough sketch #2
Whippoorwill Rough sketch
Common Poorwill, Rough sketch


These were submitted for approval. Next, I went to the museum’s bird collection, where Amanda let me pick out the skins, and very obligingly allowed me to set up a small studio for a few days in the collection room, with drawing board, risers to bring the skins up near eye level, my watercolor kit, and a daylight lamp. Using a calipers and ruler, I turned the rough sketches into measured drawings.

Next: fine-tuning the drawings.

9 thoughts on “I’ll Have the Goatsucker Plate

  1. Janet Wilkins says:

    You do beautiful work! I love your rough sketches and I really enjoy the step-by-step way that you take your blog readers through a project.

    Thanks for the lessons!

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