Bird art elevates humble trash cans in Pacific Beach

A Ridgeway’s Rail, drawn by Makena Seiler, brings a bit of nature to an unlikely setting — a trash can in Pacific Beach.
(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

Seeing bird life in the wetlands and on the beaches of Pacific Beach isn’t unusual; however, some of the feathered creatures are now commonly being sighted on one of the community’s busiest streets.

In this case, it is not the result of climate change or habitat takeover. Rather, it is images of some of the birds of PB that can now be seen in the form of plaques placed on trash cans along Garnet Avenue.

The aptly named Explore PB’s Wild Side program is a community art project of beautifulPB, designed to highlight the flora and fauna of Pacific Beach. At present, birds are the focus of the project.

Organizers said they hope that by installing creative and whimsical art into the streetscape, residents will be encouraged to explore and care for their natural surroundings.

A great blue heron and Anna’s hummingbird designed by Hilary Dufour share space on this decorated trash can on Garnet Avenue.
A great blue heron and Anna’s hummingbird, designed by Hilary Dufour, share space on this decorated trash can on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach.
(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

“The idea came together when one of our volunteers who is very passionate about bringing more art into PB had an idea the same time as our student artist, Makena Seiler, (who) needed to design her community service project,” explained Katie Matchett, beautifulPB president.

She explained that all eighth graders at Pacific Beach Middle School have to do a community service project which they design themselves. BeautifulPB is often asked to help with artistic endeavors, whether from students or adults, and tries to assist as much as it can.

To begin the project, beautifulPB joined with Discover PB, as the latter owned the trash cans. It also partnered with the San Diego Audubon Society.

“We often partner with the SD Audubon Society, and in this case, they gave us a list of birds to highlight as a starting point,” Matchett said. “By adding the decoration to the trash cans, it adds more interest to the street space and helps make even the trash cans look better.”

Belding’s Savannah sparrow, designed by Kyla Yu-Swanson as part of a mural on the UCSD Kendall-Frost Marsh trailer.
Close-up of the Belding’s Savannah sparrow, originally designed by Kyla Yu-Swanson as part of a mural on the UCSD Kendall-Frost Marsh trailer when she was a student.
(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

The group wanted to choose birds living in the varied habitats around PB, such as the marshes, canyons and the ocean, to call attention to these unique areas.

“Because Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve, for example, is in one specific corner of PB, I think it is easy to forget we have some really valuable habitat with unique and special species,” Matchett said. “It’s not always front and center that so many different habitats are just a few blocks away from our main street.”

Seiler designed four of the birds; a brown pelican, a least tern, a double-crested cormorant and a Ridgeway’s rail.

Kyla Yu-Swanson originally created the Belding’s Savannah sparrow as part of a mural on the UCSD Kendall-Frost Marsh trailer when she was a student.

“The trailer, which was used by researchers and students, is being replaced by a building,” Matchett said. “The trailer is covered in a large mural. We photographed all the art, just in case it can’t be saved any other way. We pulled the bird image out from the mural; it was painted quite some time ago.”

Two adult artists also contributed to the project.

“Local artist David Kimmel painted a black-crowned night heron. And artist Hilary Dufour painted several images, including a common loon, a great blue heron and an Anna’s hummingbird,” she said.

A common loon, designed by artist Hilary Dufour.
(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

Community volunteer Leslie Dufour worked on the project, and is also Hilary’s mother.

“My daughter is a professional artist, so of course I’m proud of her, but I’m super proud of all of them,” she said. “It’s just so nice to have a little bit of art from both adults and kids and to let the community know people care.”

Matchett said that for any beautification project, one of the ultimate goals is to produce more pride and ownership of those living in the community.

“It’s also a nudge to remind people that using the trash cans can help prevent garbage from winding up in the storm drains and then our ocean,” she said. “We also hope people will be more thoughtful about recycling.

For now, the plaques are only on eight trash cans, all on Garnet Avenue.

“We placed them about every block from Mission Boulevard to Ingraham,” she said.

Figuring out the best “canvas” for the artwork was a bit of a challenge, Matchett said. They eventually decided to have the artwork printed on aluminum plates.

Dufour said it took a large investment of time to find the correct approach for the art.

She tested several different metal plates, as any graffiti had to be easily removable, the plates had to be flexible to go around the cans, and they needed to be quite durable to hold up to the local climate.

PB Middle School student Makena Seiler designed the Double-crested Cormorant that adorns a trash can in the community.
Pacific Beach Middle School student Makena Seiler designed the Double-crested Cormorant that adorns a trash can in the community.
(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

The artwork is attached to the trash cans in such a way that it is not easy to remove, but the plates can be replaced over time if they fade or are damaged.

Dufour said she had a bit of fun with placing at least one trash can next to a particular business.

“I thought it was funny to place the black-crowned night heron next to Insomnia Cookies,” she said, explaining they are both out at night.

As the new school year begins at the end of August, beautifulPB officials said they are hoping Explore PB’s Wild Side project will continue to grow.

“We hope it moves into more birds and wildlife, and even plants and habitat, and even beyond trash cans,” said Matchett, adding the organization does not have any specific plans in mind.

“Now that we have the ideas, layout and plans, we are hoping to have a new crop of eighth graders to add to the art, as well as more adult artists,” she said. “Art on the cans is a little thing, but it touches on a lot of important areas for our community.”

For more information on beautifulPB’s Explore PB’s Wild Side program, visit or email