Dinosaurs still roam the Earth — or rather, fly from treetop to treetop.
The latest scientific theory that birds are actually dinosaurs has inspired Red Deer artist Jeff Powers to create the exhibit Ornithurae: Dinosaurs in Your Backyard, at the Marjorie Wood Gallery in the Kerry Wood Nature Centre.
The Texas native, who has lived in central Alberta on and off since middle school, grew up with paleontology books.
As he began reading more about the direct connection between ancient raptors — many of whom sported feathers — and modern-day birds, he became fascinated with all winged creatures and the science behind them.
The behavior of magpies, in particular, piqued Powers’ artistic interest.
“When I see a magpie hopping through the yard, I see the lithe muscles of a hunting dinosaur,” he says in his artistic statement.
While considered pests by some people, magpies are actually highly clever members of the crow and raven family. Powers says he has watched magpies pick up a stick and “weigh” it on their bill. They are determining which is the best part of the stick to hold onto, so an imbalance won’t interfere with flying.
More mundane Alberta species, at least in terms of size and colouring — little chickadees and sparrows — are rendered by Powers in subtle ink washes, while a great blue heron is strikingly captured with traditional paint on canvas.
His osprey and pileated woodpecker portrayals are particularly dinosaur like. The woodpecker holds his head like a Jurassic Park raptor, investigating a rustle in the bushes, while the osprey’s large yellow eyes seemingly reflect an ancient cunning.
Powers discovered surprises through his bird research — such as the male ruddy duck’s bill turns a more brilliant shade of blue during mating season.
Bohemian waxwings have a mating ritual that involves the passing of a berry back and forth between prospective partners, he says. And a social ritual features the passing of a mountain ash berry all the way down a row of birds lined up on a branch.
One of Powers’ digital artworks shows a pair of Banff ravens huddled together like lovebirds in a snowfall.
“They are insanely intelligent and mate for life,” explains the artist.
Since taking visual arts at Red Deer College and receiving a fine arts degree from Lethbridge University, he has illustrated comics and children’s books.
Avian subject matter has been his passion lately, because painting birds “is not only an exploration of the current world around me, but also an exploration of the ancient past of natural history,” states Powers.
He hopes viewers of his exhibit come away with a greater appreciation — especially of the small songbirds so often taken for granted.
The display is on until Friday.