Last fall, I began an illustration commissioned by the wonderful people at Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario (BECO), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting wild bird conservation through research and education. I worked closely with BECO’s Executive Director and Wildlife Biologist Zoé Lebrun-Southcott and Research Scientist Andrew Campomizzi to develop their vision of a fairly complex illustration showing an agricultural landscape in two seasons, populated with some of Ontario’s songbirds and their hidden nests. Zoé’s and Andrew’s ideas for the illustration arose out of “spending countless hours in hayfields and pastures observing the fascinating life of nesting grassland birds in Ontario.” Many grassland bird populations are declining, and Zoé and Andrew wanted to use an illustration as a way to communicate BECO’s research and educate people about the grassland birds present in agricultural fields.

Illustration of grassland birds in an agricultural landscape
Illustration of grassland birds in an agricultural landscape © Emily S. Damstra

On a few occasions several years ago, I volunteered to monitor nesting Bobolinks on a farm field at a nearby nature reserve. I recall being surprised at the diversity of birds—and other life—that existed in the field. I’m very pleased to know that my work might have a hand in raising awareness of this region’s grassland birds and their life cycles.

I created the illustration digitally, and it was a challenge to fit all of the requested components into a single composition. Once completed, the image became integral to a new website BECO created as part of their mission to support grassland birds. Check out their new website to see the illustration in use, with explanatory text and links to information about each species. BECO also used the illustration in an article in the March 2020 issue of Ontario Sheep News.


Suzanne Matheson

Lovely work, Emily! It looks & sounds like a fun project and it must feels great to know your art is working toward the conservation of these birds.

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