Rancho Santa Fe resident’s bird sculptures place first, second and third at the San Diego County Fair


BIRDSDale Steffen, the “bird man of Rancho Santa Fe,” entered three wood-carved bird sculptures into the San Diego County Fair this year. The show, “Design In Wood,” brings all kinds of woodworkers here to exhibit their work and compete for prize money, ribbons, and bragging rights.

Among the many categories to enter, carved birds is where Steffen’s Northern Mockingbird, Greater Roadrunner and Common Yellowthroat Warbler found their home

Steffen has entered three carvings into the fair each year since the year 2000, and has won ribbons every year. This year was exceptional, his Northern Mockingbird came in first place (blue ribbon), Greater Roadrunner second place (red ribbon) and the Common Yellowthroat Warbler third place (white ribbon), very appropriate for the Fourth of July, red-white-and-blue!

Bird sculptures come to life from a lengthy process of love of birds, observing them in their habitats, studying their characteristics, and giving special attention to detail and composition of the piece. Multiple sketches to determine the correct attitude of each bird is most important to identify not only the species, but also the story or action of the sculpture.

Steffen takes super sculpey modeling clay to make a 1/10th scale model of a large bird or full scale on smaller birds, this gets the proportions and feather groups right. Wood carving is very unforgiving, wood that is removed from the block is gone, unlike clay that can be added back on. The final painting is done with Da Vinci oils, habitats are finished with acrylics.

Steffen’s Roadrunner carving started with an interest in Roadrunners seen on trips to the desert that is occupied by snakes, lizards,(Roadrunners’ favorite meal) and yes, Roadrunners. Why not create a Roadrunner! Years later, six sketches were drawn and a choice was made to have the bird in an alert position, “Where’s Wile” (as in Wile Coyote) was born.

“Where’s Wile” became a life-like wood sculpture who has found his home in a collectors estate in the California desert, where he can keep an eye out the window for Wile, “meep-meep.”

The Northern Mockingbird is cut from a block of Jelutong wood, the Meyer lemons from tupelo wood and the branch, brass, copper and epoxy.

The Common Yellowthroat is carved from a block of tupelo wood, the branch, copper, epoxy and the base is a palm frond.

Steffen also enjoys doing oil paintings and pastels of birds (what else?). “Work as an artist/sculptor blends art, science and craftsmanship bringing together a creative piece that will never compare to the original birds created by God for our enjoyment,” Steffen said.

Steffen’s work can be seen on line at

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