Dundee Birds

11 May to 6 July 2018


SET 1 (South Marketgait)

Birds affect us in different ways; they glide into our consciousness and interrupt our preoccupations if we let them. Our chatter breaks off when we hear the noisy eruption of a crowd of sparrows hidden in a hedge. We stop dead in our tracks when the first solitary swallow, or a string of geese, swing by to mark a seasonal solstice. On a motorway, our eyes hover watchfully with the kestrel. Such encounters are both everyday and spectacular; they punctuate our lives and leave us touched by the elemental world we are a part of but sometimes neglectful of. We are suddenly alert to life beyond our human experience and the myriad of ways it can exist.

Humans have an affinity with birds. In our day-to-day lives they come and go throughout the year, sometimes raising families alongside our own, but with few means and no paraphernalia. They are a part of our world yet they seem like agents from a more honed field of intelligence, each highly adapted to closely ‘fit’ their location. The resilience of birds is astonishing, but their ability to cope with the speed at which their environment is changing is in doubt.

In the last 30 years the bird populations of Europe has decreased by 421million. After studying 144 species, scientists concluded that their numbers have dropped from a little over 2 billion birds in 1980 down to 1.64 billion in 2009. Whilst changes to modern agricultural methods have had a large impact on land habitats and availability of food, so too has climate change, causing many of the traditional food sources for sea birds to migrate further north to what cooler waters remain.

On these billboards, a selection of birds that live locally, are represented by their eggs. Their design and engineering is dazzling, but so too is the potent knowledge that such eggs contains the ingredients to conjure flight. This can only happen of course in an environment that allows the careful attention of prospective parents to nurture the fledglings into existence and to join the collective community of birds. As such the egg is both a universal symbol of immense potential, but also of fragile vulnerability.

Eggs, although quite similar in form, can be radically different in size, colour and marking, each element attesting to its individuality. To come across an egg in the wild or discover a nest in an abandoned garden bird box is a precious treasure of sorts. Each egg represents an evolutionary journey through time. The DNA of that particular species is designed through minuscule variations, dictated by the vagaries and difficulties confronted, season after season, generation after generation, from its first beginning to the form we know today.

The eggs shown here are not in proportion to each other, they come from various collections that are now housed in the Natural History Unit at Perth Museum. Taking eggs from live nests was rightly made illegal in 1954, but not until custodial sentences were imposed in 2001 did the practice significantly decrease. This collection of old eggs, some of which were taken in the midst of the first world war, have been in the museum for decades, yet despite their age, they remain a precious relic of a wondrous world.

SET 2 (Slessor Gardens)

In Dundee and the surrounding districts we are fortunate in sharing our habitat with a diverse population of birds. Different species are drawn to distinctive contexts, small skittish birds live fast dynamic lives in our gardens and parks where they have found unique feeding opportunities.

The Dighty Burn and the River Tay attract waders, dippers and shore birds, whilst the mouth of the estuary often hosts unexpected visitors, as well as birds that live far out at sea and only make an inland appearance during the summer months to breed.

A world-class experience can be had by a visit to Fowlsheugh, further up the coast: like a sort of Tokyo for birds. Here 130,000 seabirds converge between March and August to breed and rear their young on the precarious ledges and niches afforded by the sites unique exposed geology. Wildly differing species coexist on the cliffs, displaying exuberant, highly evolved and economic lifestyles. A cacophony of guttural accents can be heard and territorial squabbles, coquettish preening, stoic incubation, frenzied feeding and beguiling parenting techniques observed.

The eggs depicted here represent a small selection of birds that can be seen locally if attention and patience are practiced. It should be noted however that they are not portrayed in scale or proportion to each other. The eggs themselves are from the archives of the Natural History Unit at Perth Museum.Taking eggs from live nests was rightly made illegal in 1954, but not until custodial sentences were imposed in 2001 did the practice significantly decrease. As a result, many of the eggs photographed here are significantly old, some taken before the First World War, others during it.

- Tentsmuir, June1911

- Blair Atholl, May 1914

- Forthingham, March 1917

- Liff, June 1927

- Barry, July 1931

- Balmossie, May 1947

The young birds that might have been are long since, yet today these eggs still stand as a powerful totem for our fragile future.For information on the artists, visit www.dalzielscullion.com