Art + Design

Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them

Bay Area photographer Sharon Beals spent much of the past three years learning about and photographing bird nests. Just in time for spring, Beals’ photographs have been collected into the new book Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them.

Moved by Scott Weidensaul’s illuminating study of migration, Living on the Wind, Beals calls herself “a theoretical birder, one with a very short life list, but on a quest to learn what birds need to be sustained both locally and globally.”

“What has been made so clear to me,” says Beals, “is that so many of the decisions I make in my daily life affect their survival. What I plant in my yard, what coffee I buy, what I put down the drain or into the atmosphere, or where I let my dog or cat wander—all of this matters. A lot. …It was only after making the first photograph of a nest, drawn to its palette and messy, yet graceful and functional form, that I knew I had found my medium—or at least a way that I could be a medium for the birds.”

To learn more about Nests:
•  Visit Sharon’s website.
•  Tune in (or TiVo) The Martha Stewart Show next Tuesday, March 15. Or, if you miss it, check out the online feature that will accompany the on-air piece.
•  Read an informative Sierra Magazine feature and slideshow, going live on Monday.
•  Join us at the California Academy of Sciences for their Earth Day NightLife on Thursday, April 21 from 6-10 pm or stop by the California Academy of Sciences before May 1 to view an exhibition of Sharon’s photographs.
•  Take your own photograph of an urban nest and submit it to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Funky Nest photo contest.
•  Buy a copy of Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them. Perfect for any bird lover, each of Beals’ beautiful images are accompanied by an ornithological illustration and informative text about each bird. Here are a few favorites:

Bank Swallow

Great Sage Grouse

Green Heron

Swainson’s Thrush

Western Tanager

The nests in Beals photographs are held in the collections of three California institutions—the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo.

Patti Quill
Art + Design

Subscribe to our Art + Design Newsletter.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Linkedin
Share On Pinterest
Contact us



  • Breb March 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Neat, although awfully similar to Richard Barnes nest series:


    • Andy Weiner March 14, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      Yes, they've both taken photographs of nests. Whether Sharon's photographs are "awfully similar" is questionable, and even if they were, does it make a tremendous difference? Does the second person to take someone's photograph automatically suffer in the comparison? Sharon's work is beautiful. Her eye, her appreciation of the nests and the eggs, the commentary–all elevate her work.


      • Breb March 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm

        By similar I was commenting on the presentation of nests removed from their source and shot with studio lighting on a black background. Especially when you look at Barnes's color photos (, it's hard to deny some debt to the previous work. Particularly when that previous work is in the collection of a major museum, and when many of the objects came from the same source (Barnes' were from the Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Carmarillo). Does that mean these photos aren't valid? Or, worse, a rip-off? No, of course not, Barnes isn't the first to document nature in a scientific fashion. If they make for an entertaining or informative book, then they've proved their worth in this context. But I do think it's fair to say they are quite similar, because, well, they are.


  • Blythe Hill March 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    What a beautiful idea, and beautiful, beautiful images! 🙂


  • Kristin Hofso March 19, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Gorgeous photographs of these nests!


Leave a Comment