Donald Tyler: Carving out a niche

Grand Junction resident Donald Tyler, a retired doctor, works to transform wood into effigies of birds at his home in early February.


Donald Tyler spends the majority of his days in a narrow utility room, working on his favorite hobby — woodcarving.

The retired physician spends several hours a day carving bird sculptures. It usually takes 50 to 60 hours for each bird, he said.

“It’s very relaxing,” Tyler said. “You really concentrate on it and don’t think about anything else.”

He no longer plays golf and doesn’t walk nearly as much as he used to with his wife, Jean.

It is an escape and a passion.

“It’s exciting to see it come out from a block of wood to what you want it to be,” Tyler said. “You have to plan for it.  You have to plan what you do with the wings.”

“He’s done well,” Jean Tyler said. “It’s a wonderful way to get your mind off troubles. He can lose himself in the work room for a couple hours at a time.”

Tyler developed an interest in woodcarving as a child, but never did much until 1972 when he and Jean spent their free time watching birds.

“It was her love of birds that got me into it,” Tyler said. “She inspired me.”

The former National Audubon Society members lured birds to feeders in their backyard in Marshalltown, Iowa, and watched them.

The Tylers moved to Grand Junction 14 years ago to be near their son, Steve. They have observed birds at feeders and walked along Connected Lakes and watched various birds.

“Jean saw a Towhee out here,” Tyler said. “You get an idea from what we see in the feeder, study up on it and try to find out everything you can on it. Until you get into it, you don’t realize the number of species.”

Tyler thought he would try carving bird sculptures.

“I thought maybe I could carve one,” he said. “It was really just a block of wood with a little bit of a beak on it.”

Tyler, though, wasn’t discouraged.

He was motivated by the challenge.

“I decided I needed to have some instructions, so I went to some classes,” he said. “The first class I went to was in Florida. I carved a robin.”

Pleased with the outcome, Tyler started attending Bob Guge classes in the Denver area.

Tyler gets photos of the birds from calendars, posters or wherever he can find them, then draws the pattern on a block of tupelo wood and carves it out with a band saw.

“It’s a semi-soft wood and it cuts easily,” Tyler said. “It doesn’t fuzz up as much as bass wood when you’re carving.”

Tupelo wood doesn’t have knots in it.

He has a book of measurements of the birds to get an idea of the size. It includes the wing, leg and toe length, and the color of eyes.

“The more realistic you get the better you are,” Tyler said. “Being an observer you find out you need that accuracy. If it’s 10 millimeters then 10 millimeters is what it’s supposed to be. Usually you make it a little bigger so you can cut it back.”

His carvings often include branches made out of copper wire, and berries and leaves incorporated in the wood.

“The beauty of nature is what makes the process so wonderful,” Tyler said. “Some of the carvers have called birds jewels of the sky. Each one is a jewel of a different kind.”

Tyler has carved hundreds of birds out of wood from elf owls to blue jays to sparrows.

He recently completed a kingfisher bird and a catbird.

Some other birds include a green jay, cactus wren, bluebirds, miniature hawks, a red-tail hawk, cedar waxwing and a rock wren.


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