Meet Ferrisburgh, the Injured Bird That Got New Wings as an Artist

Ferrisburgh with one of his paintings.
An American kestrel named Ferrisburgh has become a sensation, leading art classes and showing off his artistic skills at the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences. (Image: via Anna Morris)

In the heart of Quechee, Vermont, an American kestrel named Ferrisburgh has become the center of attention for art lovers and nature enthusiasts alike. An unexpected wing injury hampered his flying ability, but not his soaring spirit.

The bird has become a sensation, leading art classes and showing off his artistic skills at the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences (VINS) — a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Vermont. 

Ferrisburgh’s heartbreaking story of captivity

Four years ago, a man was walking in the nearby town of Ferrisburgh when a young male kestrel perched on his shoulder. The bird was chattering loudly, perhaps looking to be fed. 

The man brought the kestrel to the VINS facility, where Anna Morris, director of on-site and outreach programs at VINS, concluded the bird lived with people rather than his species. She figured the bird’s willingness to approach people showed that he may have been kept illegally in captivity.

“We don’t really know a lot about his early life, but we can assume from his friendly behavior toward humans that he was raised by humans from a young age,” Anna Morris told Smithsonian Magazine. “This is, of course, illegal in the United States. You can’t just take a wild bird as a pet.”

Rescue center staff named the bird “Ferrisburgh” after the town where he was found. 

The American kestrel was given the name Ferrisburgh after the town where he was found.
The American kestrel was given the name ‘Ferrisburgh’ after the town where he was found. (Image: via Anna Morris)

Life as a bird ambassador

American kestrels, also called sparrow hawks, are the smallest and most colorful of all raptors in North America. They often hunt as a family, allowing young kestrels to hone their hunting skills before they venture out independently. Also, male kestrels and female kestrels look very different from each other.

At VINS, kestrels and other raptors are brought out during field trips and classes to give people one-on-one interactions with these birds. This way, they can understand their ecology and how to protect them in the wild. 

Ferrisburgh became part of this educational crew in 2019. Kestrels are the most common falcons in the U.S., but sadly, their population has almost halved since the 1970s. So birds like Ferrisburgh are crucial in teaching visitors how to boost their population.

From bird ambassador to artist

Sadly, in June last year, Ferrisburgh was found in his enclosure with an injured wing. Malerie Muratori, an environmental educator at the institute, found the bird on the ground, but said they don’t know how he got his injury. 

However, a veterinarian examined Ferrisburgh and found that he had an old fracture and a new one in his right wing. He determined the bird had brittle bones, most likely caused by poor nutrition as a young bird in captivity.

Since his injuries hampered his flying ability, the bird’s caregivers wanted to find creative ways to keep him engaged after he healed. Mal Muratori remembered that, as a teen, she had watched a crow (aptly and humorously named “Vincent van Crow”) paint with a brush in its beak. Another member at VINS, Lexie Smith, had also seen birds that created art with paint and a canvas.

Paintbrushes and paint sit next to a partially painted canvas.
Staff members at the institue recalled seeing other birds who painted and decided to see if Ferrisburgh would be interested in learning. (Image: Satjawat Boontanataweepol via Dreamstime)

So would Ferrisburgh be interested in becoming a painter? The staff soon found out when they laid down newspapers and nontoxic paint in an airy building. Using signals familiar to the bird, they signaled him to run through the paint and across the papers in exchange for a treat. And voila, they had their Matisse!

“He took to it right away — he was a natural,” Smith said of Ferrisburgh’s class demonstration. “Everyone in the class had a lot of fun painting and coloring artworks of Ferrisburgh while he made his own little paintings.” (The Washington Post)

A step in the right direction

Ferrisburgh leads an art class where he creates mini-action paintings, while Muratori and Smith educate visitors about kestrels. Also, besides Ferrisburgh, other American kestrels, such as Westford, are used to give lessons about raptors. Amazingly, more than 12 people signed up for the bird’s first art class last year.

Of course, Ferrisburgh doesn’t know what he’s painting, and he’s in it just for the treat. Still, he shows us the liveliness of animals and inspires people to protect wild birds and conserve our environment. 

“If you ever find a baby bird outside and you think it needs help, call a wildlife rehabilitator,” said Muratori. “Don’t ever try to raise these birds alone, or they’ll end up like Ferrisburgh. He’s a little bird who thinks he’s a human.” (The Washington Post)

Ferrisburgh is the first bird to paint at VINS, but the staff hopes more birds will take up painting. Maybe even poetry. They also plan to hold two bird painting events yearly to create awareness and raise funds for the care of animals at the sanctuary.

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  • Nathan Machoka

    Nathan is a writer specializing in history, sustainable living, personal growth, nature, and science. To him, information is liberating, and it can help us bridge the gap between cultures and boost empathy. When not writing, he’s reading, catching a favorite show, or weightlifting. An admitted soccer lover, he feeds his addiction by watching Arsenal FC games on weekends.