What colour is a bird?
Socks about birds, part 2
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Last week I was telling you how Andrea Rangel and I came up with a bird-themed idea for our most recent collaboration. Well, after those initial meetings, Andrea went off and thought about translating the checklist into a knitting stitch pattern, while I went off and tried to come up with colours for birds.
I quickly learned a few things. 1) Many of the birds that are overall mostly brown and/or grey actually have a handful of wildly colourful feathers. 2) Some of the most colourful birds are a bazillion different colours. 3) Either way, it’s really hard to pick a single colour that would unambiguously identify a particular bird. 4) Obviously but importantly, there are a *lot* of different species of birds.
This seems like a good time to mention that I am not a birder. Despite being raised by biologists and spending a lot of time outdoors, I am completely unable to identify all but a handful of local birds. Unless you count “hey, look, a Costco Parking Lot bird!” as identifying a bird. I’m well aware that my personal gut feelings about birds are not super helpful if ornithological accuracy is your goal. So to help me decide what birds to include, and what colours are representative, I turned to Instagram.
The overlap between people who are intense about knitting and people who are intense about birding is not insignificant. I threw the question out there “what are your favourite colourful birds in the Pacific Northwest?” and the good folks in the instagram comments delivered. I counted up all the votes (Steller’s Jay was hands down the most popular) and used the top dozen birds as my starting point for creating colour combos.
Even seemingly monochromatic birds like the deep blue of a Steller’s Jay aren’t actually one single colour. And sometimes birds have multiple distinctive colours, like the black and white of a loon. I played around with google image searches and colour swatches and made colour swatches for the birds - a handful of colours picked from their feathers, beak, and feet.
A single colour for each bird just wasn’t enough, and five or more was just too many to be practical - among others things, five stripes takes up a lot of real estate on a sock. In the end, I landed on three colours to represent each bird. A few birds got cut for being too colourful (looking at you wood duck), or having colours that are beautiful on a bird but less so as stripes on a sock (still you, wood duck).
Anyhoo. I narrowed it down to eight colour combos I felt good about, and asked the internet for feedback.
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This particular corner of the internet can be kind and helpful, and folks had some very specific comments. Like, if your favourite bird is the Northern Flicker and I got the orange wrong, you aren’t just going to let that slide. I appreciate you.
A few people also commented along the lines of “oh, I’d love some Anna’s Hummingbird socks!” My plan had been the whole menagerie all at once, so that was helpful feedback too. Like, just because I want all the colours all at once doesn’t mean that’s the only option. Maybe some folks are from the “one bird at a time” school of sock knitting.
So ok. Some colour tweaks were in order. And then there’s the matter of translating these colours onto yarn. More on that next time.
An instagram-sytle flat lay showing a birding book entitled Birds of Coastal British Columbia featuring a majestic bald eagle on the cover. Bald eagles are undoubtedly great, but locally, the surest place to find them is the dump and I feel like maybe we should spent more time appreciating the majesty (and intelligence!) of the crow instead. Anyway. There’s a bird book, a knitted tube of striped yarn, and a swirl of loose yarn.
A graphic labeled Birds of the Pacific Northwest. There are eight colour palettes, each labelled with the name of a bird: Goldfinch, Varied Thrush, Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Anna’s Hummingbird, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, and Steller’s Jay.