This February and March, students across Harney County became naturalists for a day, studying and painting feathers in an artist residency program developed by Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Bend Art Center and supported by FOMR. The students’ feather studies were featured at the annual Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, along with students’ artwork from Hines Middle School, Burns High School, Crane Union High School, homeschoolers, and other youth groups.

Visiting artist Michelle Solley and Wildlife Refuge Specialist Carey Goss spent eight days traveling to schools in Burns, Diamond, Frenchglen, Crane, Drewsey, Riley, Double O, and Fields. This year’s program combined history, art and science and served almost 600 students in grades K-8.

Solley introduced each class to the famed naturalist John James Audubon and shared his methods for illustrating birds in their natural habitats. Then it was the students’ turn to study and paint migratory bird species they might spy in Harney County.

Kids sorted through 200 laminated feathers from 30 different species and picked their favorites. Using careful observation, kids compared and contrasted different types of feathers and learned to identify whether they had selected a down, wing, tail or contour feather. Goss explained how different feather structures help birds fly, stay warm, attract mates, or provide camouflage.

Solley walked students through a variety of art techniques to capture the texture, shape and pattern of their chosen feather. After some practice and experimentation, kids created detailed studies of their bird feathers with pencil and watercolor. Goss chatted with students and offered interesting details on the species they were painting.

“We were thrilled to bring this kind of program to students in Harney County,” said Dawn Boone, Education Manager for Bend Art Center. “Art is a powerful way to explore the world around us. In making these feather studies, students cemented their newfound knowledge of migratory birds and came away with a greater appreciation for nature.”

During the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival, staff auctioned off canvas prints of students’ artwork April 6-7 at Burns High School and continued the auction at the festival’s Saturday evening banquet. Auction proceeds will fund next year’s arts education program for area youth. The original students’ artwork was displayed at Burns High School and local businesses during the festival.

Dozens of the students’ feather studies are also featured in specially-designed nature posters and cards that were available for purchase at the festival. FOMR will continue selling these at the Crane’s Nest Nature Store at Refuge Headquarters, with all proceeds supporting next year’s youth-art program.

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