Birds in BioMed!

Today I ventured into somewhere I've never been before...the Biomedical Library's Special Collections stacks! I study in the main library often, but had never known of this hidden gem. What caught my eye was a display of gorgeous illustrations of birds laid out very delicately in a special case.


Looking at it closer, I found out that it was a rare artist's book called Parrots of the Cannibal Islands, which is was written and illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk in 1990. Fifty copies were published in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, but only 10 copies of the book have been produced as an author's edition.


Red-breasted Musk parrot


Blue-crowned Lory


‚Äč(All above photos taken by me!)

The book contains marvelous drawings and observation notes that van Sandwyk made on the five indigenous species of parrots found in the Fiji Islands, which he made a home. These birds are found nowhere else on earth! Apparently, he was inspired by the style of early naturalist publications, which is why they resemble drawings that explorers and ships' illustrators made of their discoveries. Furthermore, these animals and plants in these illustrations were often given characteristics not completely natural, but infused with the artists' personalities. Indeed, I like to think that the whimsical, vibrant quality of these illustrations are probably a product of van Sandwyks' personality. Just for fun, I looked up some real-life images for comparison:


Red-breasted Musk parrot (Photo:


Blue-crowned Lory (Photo:

Like many of the things we have seen in this class, van Sandwyk's work walks the line between scientific accuracy and an artist's imagination. Although in today's times old-fashioned illustrations may not be scientifically useful due to photography and other more accurate methods of documenting species, I believe that his playful drawings intrigue audiences to want to learn more about them. For instance, I found that the red-breasted Musk parrot is considered to be Vulnerable by the IUCN due to its restricted range, habitat loss, and illegal trade in parrots. The blue-crowned Lory is also declining in population on the island due to predation by rats. These are important issues that warrant human attention, and van Sandwyk's drawings, though he may not have set out to do so, can serve a larger purpose in raising awareness of these issues by spurring interest in these species.

I am now imagining that if he collaborated with an ecologist who specializes in the preservation of these birds to put on a show...that could make for a very interesting and impactful exhibit! I think this is a lesson that I will take with me as we are nearing an end in this Biotech+Art class - that together, art and science can engage the public in discussion of important issues in society.