I am excited to finally share this long-overdue post about Keith Hansen, a Wildlife Artist who focuses on birds. The first time I visited Keith's sunny Bolinas Wildlife Art Studio, long before the Growing Wild project began, I remember being in awe of two things: First, Keith held the record for the most different species of birds seen from one room (his studio window). As it turns out Bolinas lagoon is a major thoroughfare for migrating birds. Second, Keith draws the birds he sees from his studio window with the most perfect attention to detail and knowledge of his subjects. Easels and paint and pencils and drawings covered every surface of the small space. As various birds would flit in and out of his courtyard he would immediately identify them and describe their distinguishing features with a photographic memory of each bird. One of my goals for the growing wild blog is to feature people who have a close connection to wildlife so I was beyond thrilled when Keith agreed to be photographed. Where did you grow up? How did you end up opening your gallery in Bolinas?
My parents are from Fresno but my dad was a military pilot so we moved to a lot of places while I was growing up including to Hawaii and Maryland. It was in the woods in Maryland that I saw my first Cedar Wax Wing. It was the summer I was in sixth grade. It was so beautiful. That's when I was drawn in. About a month later we ended up moving back to Fresno. That's when my brother Rob began volunteering at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, now called Point Blue. They do major research on bird conservation issues. Rob got his bird banding license and began banding birds on the Farallon Islands. I helped him and that's when I really started to get a feel for birds, their shape, their weight. That understanding helps me tremendously with the drawing process. I really consider myself a birder first and an artist second.
What is a bird banding license?
You learn a specific safe technique for capturing and banding birds so you can study them. To capture them you use a very fine net called a mist net. Mist nets are so fine that you wouldn't even be able to see one if it was hanging up in this courtyard.
I understand that you have been documenting all the birds that you have seen from your studio window. What is your current species count? What is the most recent species you added to the list?
Yes! We have the records for the most number of bird species seen from any single room in North America. The last one added to the list was a House Wren in September 2013 bringing the total to 224. My wife and I also record the birds we see from our home. We have the record there for the most birds seen from one building.
I noticed that you have a lot of Hummingbird feeders in your courtyard. Do you worry these birds will become dependent on you?
No, I used to worry about that so I conducted an experiment. I used a video monitor to record all the birds that visit the feeder and then identified ones with unique markings. I found that the same bird will not visit more than twice in one day, usually just once. Because hummingbirds must feed so often, this assures me they are finding plenty of food sources elsewhere.
What was your last big project?
I illustrated a book called Birds of the Sierra Nevada: Their Natural History, Status and Distribution. It contains detailed illustrations of over 160 rare species as well as information on their habits and ranges.
It's been really great learning about all this species diversity at your Bolinas studio. But how much can people in more urban areas see? Are there any particular birds you would recommend looking for?
Absolutely! You can see all sorts if you take the time to look. I recommend starting with Peregrine Falcons because they are easy to identify.
Thank you Keith and keep up the great work!
Hummingbird and feeders in the courtyard
Keith's drawings of Hummingbirds (left) and Studio Entrance (right)
Keith holding one of his drawings
A commissioned drawing that also depicts a dramatic background (left) and the posted list documenting the variety of bird species seen from the studio window (right)
Note the bird viewing scope in the right part of the photo. The scope is attached to a monitor to allow easy bird viewing.