Today I heard a Blackbird sing

Regan O'Callaghan Blackbird, I heard a blackbird sing, egg tempera, religious icon, haloToday I heard a Blackbird sing.

I often sit in my studio painting in silence.  I can be down here for hours and not see or speak with anyone.  But it is never truly silent. The inner conversations that go on in my head remind me of many things, jobs that need to be done and memories of friends I miss.  In the very still moments emerges the subtle feelings of aloneness which speak from deep within my being, a part of my being I call the sacred space. This voice I need to listen to.

There is a Blackbird that regularly sings outside my studio it also digs up the moss in the roof gutters of the Church Hall looking for worms and leaving the moss flung onto the pavement below.   I think it is probably doing the church a favour as it is unblocking the gutters ready for the next downpour!   I love it when the Blackbird sings as its song pierces the silence of the studio drowning out the tick of the clock and this mad priests ravings.

The Blackbird is naturally a forest dweller but with the forests being cut down it has learnt to adapt to suburban and city living.  This ability to adapt has meant that it has thrived while other birds have disappeared. In New Zealand where it was introduced it has prospered so well that many New Zealanders think it is a native!  Its darting through gardens and prancing on lawns while shrilly declaring its territory is now truly etched into the psyche of the nation.

This ability to adapt doesn't come naturally to all species and certainly not to all humans!  A general observation of western society might suggest it is the voices with the loudest shrill demands that gain ownership and domination of territories while the quieter types flitter about in the background!   However this is not to taint the Blackbird with our own quirks of nature.

For me the Blackbird is a symbol of strength and adaptability in an ever changing world. Its vibrant black plumage, yellow beak and ringed eye speaks of a bold character who perseveres come what may.  Walking home I often see it darting under and between parked cars on tarmac roads.  A harsh and unforgiving environment surely so foreign to it that I feel sad and yet I am thankful that this remarkable little bird is there.

Photo a detail taken from a work in progress.The Almighty and the Blackbird2011.

For the Love of Birds.

Regan O'Callaghan Elijah and the ravens, oil pastel, wadi,"Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all"       

Emily Dickinson


I spent part of my childhood on a farm a few miles out from a little town called Taihape in the North Island of New Zealand.  I have a very clear memory of asking my stepfather if there were any Kiwis in the surrounding countryside.   There were none.   Kiwis are forest dwellers and the forest had been cleared a couple of generations before to make way for sheep and cattle.   The trees that dotted the landscape were mostly introduced species like the plum trees in the orchard where I would spend time climbing and hiding or the big Macrocarpa trees behind the dogs kennels where Magpies roosted and sometimes dive bombed.

I loved birds.  One of my first pets was a Australian cockatiel named Joey.    He lived in a cage but was often let out and eventually when we moved back to Taupo released into a large aviary in our garden.  Around this time I also had a pet magpie who as a young bedraggled sick looking bird wandered onto our property.  I nursed him back to health.  He flew around our neighborhood and would return when I whistled.  One day he just disappeared.    I like to think it was the call of the wild.

I started painting birds at an early age.  Seabirds, parrots and owls all appeared in my work and I was fascinated by the very rare New Zealand birds most people hadn’t seen or even heard about.  The Hioho, Piopio, Huia, Takahe, Hihi and others inspired me and saddened me at the same time.  Some having become extinct.  In Maori culture birds have an important role.  Its not surprising they feature so prominently as Aotearoa was originally a land of birds.  There were no land mammals except for bats.  Birds ruled.  This all changed with the arrival of man and rats, stoats and possums.

Gone but nor forgotten.

On the day my father died I went round to my grandmothers.  A few of us gathered to share our feelings and begin to discuss funeral plans.  As we talked a Pīwakawaka ( a small bird with a fan tail)  flew into the room and flitted around us twittering before darting out.  To some including my superstitious grandmother this was a bad omen.  For me I saw it as a beautiful sign, a sign of hope.

Birds feature in my art often as symbols of hope and as representations of dreams of  fluttering wings and haunting birdsong deep from within forgotten forests.    The story of God promising that ravens would bring food to Elijah is a reminder of something we often choose to forget.  We need birds.  They remind us of the beauty of the world and its mysteries.  Their flight is inspirational their song heart moving.    Without them we are lost.  The now extinct Huia is a case in point.  There is a story that says the Huia was the first bird to sing at the rising of the sun and once it had started singing all the other birds would join in with the dawn chorus filling the land with song.    Today the Huias song has been silenced along with much of the song of creation.   The remaining forests in New Zealand are virtually silent.   Thankfully the conservation movement in New Zealand is working hard to protect what is left.

Gone but not forgotten.

 “Elijah and the ravens”Oil pastel on paper1996.