Barry Kent MacKayArt and Photo Presentations from

Art by Barry Kent MacKay

In this section are copies of original works of art. All of them are dedicated to helping us live according to unconditional love and compassion, which is the foundation of our peaceful means of bringing true and lasting peace to all of God's creatures, whether they are human beings or other animals.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and Washington Sea-Eagle

Bald Eagle
(Artwork - 239)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is found throughout most of North America, from the treeline (it requires trees both for nest sites and to provide branches used as nesting material) south into central Mexico. The word “bald” apparently derives from the Celtic, bal, meaning a white area, especially on or around the head, such as the blaze on a horse, and it is that meaning that applies to the eagle, whose head is fully feathered in white. This was a commissioned painting, and timely, as a short while after I painted it, the first Bald Eagle nest ever recorded in Toronto was reported. They almost certainly nested there before European expansion into the North America, but their feathers were in demand by the first people to arrive on the continent, when we lost many larger animals, and when Europeans arrived they were an irresistible target for some hunters before legislated protection was enacted. Greatest harm came from the introduction of DDT, following WW II, when their numbers, and those of many other fish-eating species, such as pelicans, cormorants, and Ospreys, plummeted. A widespread ban on use of DDT in North America allowed their recovery, and they are no longer considered to be endangered.

While they eat carrion, including dead fish washed ashore, and are notorious for harassing Ospreys carrying freshly caught fish until the smaller Osprey drops the fish and the eagle “steals” the prey, mid-air, they are skilled fishers in their own right. They are opportunistic, capturing whatever prey they can overcome. Healthy birds tip the scales at between 3 and 6.3 kg (about 6 ˝ to 14 lbs) with females being about 25% larger than the males. Birds in the southern U.S. and Mexico are the nominate race. I have shown a male of the northern subspecies, H. l. washingtoniensis.

How it got that name is bizarre, and since it involved a fellow bird artist, albeit one quite unlike myself, I shall tell it:

In 1827 John James Audubon (1785 – 1851), America’s best-known painter of birds, published, in the first stage of his monumental work, The Birds of America (1827 – 38), his rendering of an arrogant-looking eagle, dark of plumage all over, and called it Falco washingtonii, claiming it was from a freshly killed specimen. It looks a little like a young Bald Eagle. It takes a Bald Eagle several years to attain full adult plumage. But the markings and anatomy are not quite right.

Exhaustive research by Matthew R. Halley of Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, determined that the original painting, done in graphite, pastels, black ink, and watercolours, displayed a bird that differed in several ways from a Bald Eagle, including the pattern of scale pattern (scutellation) of the feet and shape of the beak. Audubon wired freshly shot birds into poses, often absurdly unnatural, and then copied them. It seems unlikely he’d make errors of this nature if he had actually drawn from a real bird. Halley writes: “The preponderance of evidence suggests that the Bird of Washington was an elaborate lie that Audubon concocted to convince members of the English nobility who were sympathetic to American affairs, to subscribe to and promote his work.”

Halley describes other ornithological frauds and hoaxes by Audubon, whose reputation has so suffered recently (he was also a grave robber and anti-abolitionist) that the National Audubon Society considered changing its name, but I believe has so far resisted. Halley’s paper is here .

My life-size painting is in oils, on compressed hardboard and is 22.5 X 36 inches, which works out to the proportions of the Golden Rectangle, thought by some to be the most esthetically pleasing proportions for a rectangular painting. I have also included, FYI, the original version of Audubon’s Washington eagle, and the final print, with background added.

Washington Sea Eagle
Washington Sea Eagle

Washington Sea Eagle
Washington Sea Eagle

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.

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