The delicate patterns of the feathers on this ruff, a species of sandpiper ( Philomachus pugnax ), fascinated Gerardus van Veen. He chose a static, rather flat, profile view to set off the shape and texture of the bird's plumage, which he drew exquisitely with the point of a brush. When shown from the side, the bird's plumed ruff, protruding from its breast, appears more pronounced and the long, narrow beak is more noticeable. Van Veen produced the delicate tonal effect of the feathers by building up layers of watercolor and bodycolor over black chalk. His sure, light touch is particularly evident in the bird's white "petticoats."
Scholars believe Van Veen produced this study for a wealthy naturalist such as Agnes Block, who probably commissioned other bird studies from him. He specialized in producing refined natural history illustrations in watercolors for rich clients, many of whom owned country houses outside Amsterdam.