By Leorah Gavidor, Visitor Services Team Member
If you visited Birch Aquarium last October or November, you may have caught a glimpse of sculptor Brian Gibson — Birch Aquarium’s first artist-in-residence — in action. You might have noticed him studying a life-size model of a black oystercatcher as he carved feathers into the clay sculptures, which would become the mold for the final bronze statues. And if you’ve been to the aquarium recently, you probably noticed that Preuss Tide Pool Plaza now has a few new feathered friends. Look closely — you’ll see a Black Oystercatcher mother with her chick and a Great Blue Heron perched on the rocks.
“These are birds you would see around the tide pools here on the San Diego coast,” said Gibson, who worked part-time as a birder for the US Forest Service when he moved to San Diego years ago. As an artist, Gibson works with several local museums on a wide range of fabrication projects. He’s one of the artisans behind the Coast to Cactus exhibit at the Nat, and the 17-foot hanging orangutan at San Diego History Center’s 100-year celebration of the Zoo. The bronze outdoor shorebird statues are unique to Birch Aquarium and one of only two of his outdoor projects.
The sculptor chose bronze for the birds because it’s durable and will hold up well to curious visitors who want to touch the statues (when it’s safe again). After Gibson finished his time at Birch Aquarium sculpting the clay versions, the heron and the oystercatchers were off to the foundry. Gibson transported the birds to a workshop in the San Joaquin Valley, for the next steps of the process: creating a mold out of wax and ceramic, then pouring molten bronze into the mold. The birds took their places at the edge of the aquarium’s tide pools in March 2021.
- Great Blue Herons can be seen year-round in San Diego’s wetlands and coastal areas.
- Black Oystercatchers look for shellfish at low tide, prying open shells with their bright-orange beaks.
- In winter, La Jolla is one of the primary places to see the Black Oystercatcher.
Look for the bird statues next time you visit the aquarium! We highly recommend that you reserve your tickets in advance, as we’ve been selling out most days.