The first thing I thought of when I read about your idea for an AP art project I thought of the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a mythical bird, so that might not help you, though it is also said to be splendidly beautiful and colorful, which might help you. Unfortunately, the Phoenix dies but is then reborn, so that may or may not work with your current idea. In any case, this is the only bird I know of whose death is meaningful--or even noticeable.
The legend of the Phoenix is part of many cultures over centuries; while the details may be up for debate, the essence of the story remains the same.
The Phoenix is a beautiful bird:
The Phoenix was a graceful bird, with brilliant plumage and a distinctive tuft of feathers at the back of its head. There are at least three different descriptions of the plumage colors of the Phoenix. One says that the head, breast, and back are scarlet or reddish-gold, and the iridescent wings are many colors. Its feet are a Tyrian purple hue, while its eyes are sea-blue. Another says the body is plum-colored with a scarlet back and wing feathers, a golden head, and a long tail of rose and azure. The third description states that the Phoenix is a royal purple with a golden neck and head. It is possible that these descriptions are of the Phoenix in various stages of its life.
Most legends say the Phoenix lived for a thousand years, and when he knew his time to die was drawing near he would gather what he needed and build a funeral pyre for himself. (There is great discrepancy on where the Phoenix would go to die, but that should not matter to your project, as you can simply depict the pyre.)
As the Phoenix is consumed by the fire, it lays an egg; from the ashes a new Phoenix is born which will take the place of the one who died, ensuring that the circle of life will remain intact.
As a metaphor, the Phoenix is used to describe someone who seems to be dead or defeated but manages to rise triumphantly from the ashes or certain death or defeat. We might use it this way: She was a phoenix, rising from the ashes. Obviously those who know the mythical legend understand that to mean something like the idea that she was nearly defeated but managed to turn her defeat into a victory.
One other random idea is to depict the death of a bald eagle, the American symbol of all that is noble and good and free; his death could be a metaphor for the death of these things in America. If the bird were clearly a bald eagle and you made certain the setting is America, this would work, I think.
Hope this helped. Best of luck on your project!