Let’s Paint a Phoebe Nest with Babies!

Before we begin, let me show you what else I found in the Teason Woods, part of Chicago’s  Cook County Forest Preserves.

Starting on the yellow trail heading west, I immediately encountered a scarlet tanager:

here is another view:

Isn’t he sooooo beautiful? I just love him. So bright and tropical looking! I did not hear him at all, but did see his red flash against the tree tops. At first I thought it was a cardinal, but was pleasantly surprised to discover it was our summer visitor, Mr. Scarlet Tanager.

You know, I’m saving the best for last….

On the yellow tail when I finally reached the stream here is what it looked like:

There is a secret under the bridge….I’ll tell you what it is…it’s a phoebe nest!
With babies!

What a find! How precious. What a lucky ducky I am! I am zooming in on this photo, I didn’t want to get too close. I believe there were 4 babies. Unfortunately I could see mites on the baby’s mouth. What does that mean? Does that mean they will be okay or will the mites hinder their growth or possibly death? If a dedicated smart birder knows this answer, please let us know.

We love them so much, we want to paint them…so here we go:

Step 1: Make a sketch in pencil and a background wash with a blue watercolor paint. Nice and loose..don’t worry about it too much.

Step 2: To paint the nest, first start with yellow ocher, paint the middle. While wet, add some red around the yellow and then blue to the outside of the nest. Do this while everything is wet, so that they all melt together. Finally add some green to represent the moss that is used by the phoebe to construct the nest. That’s the fun part, drop it in like dots. If the background is still wet, the dots will spread and create moss patches.

Step 3: While the birds are a little harder, they are not impossible. First, protect the delicate beaks with masking fluid (it looks orange on my picture). Next, I will lay down my lightest colors first. Let them dry.

Step 4: Lay in some darker colors on the babies. I used a mixture of indigo blue and brown.

Step 5: In this step I just added a little more definition to the birdies, using dark indigo colors. I also added some twigs in the nest using blues and browns, reds too! Make them super thin using a rigger brush.

Step 6 Final: In this step, I removed the masking fluid from the beaks, and painted them yellow. When everything was dry, I took a #01 micron pen and added ink. I love that step the best…it really makes everything come into place!

Don’t you love the little birdie sleeping in the background the best! He could care less that I was there. The rest were unafraid, only because they are too little to have the experience to know fear. They just quietly looked at me as if to say…what in the world is that big thing?

I did not touch them or get too close…but left them how they were.

“Baby Eastern Phoebe Nest”
original watercolor

image size: 4.5×6.5
off white mat dimensions: 8×10
no frame

I hope you enjoyed our hike at Teason Woods and our watercolor step by step instruction of how to paint the baby eastern phoebe nest!


  1. i think all birds have mites just like all wild animals have fleas. i sure find them when i clean out the wren house at the end of summer.

  2. Donna: I feel better, let nature take its course…you are right. Maybe when they can leave the nest they will take a dust bath to clean themselves? Thanks so much for answering! 🙂

    Dave: Thanks! I love them too.

  3. Christine –
    Thank you for such a wonderful class! It was easier than I expected and I
    was quite pleased with my paintings for a first time watercolor painter. Also, a nice group of people. My friend and I are looking forward to another class.

  4. Sue: Thank you so much for trying the class out. You did amazing!!! I can’t believe that was your first watercolor….great job! Looking forward to May’s class as well.

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