Posted by: atowhee | April 26, 2014


On this date, in Les Cayes, Haiti, in 1785, the most significant single event in the history of American Ornithology occurred. A little baby named Audubon was born. Born Jean Rabine Audubon, he would come to the United States as a teenage draft dodge in the still-new 19th Century, and eventually change the course of natural history study in America.


He was a genius, a manipulator, an artist, a creative mind, an indomitable spirit, a fighter, a conniver, a tireless explorer, a genial friend and musician–most of all he was a romantic in spirit and action. He used every contact he could to sell his books, often naming new species after those who helped him: Bewick, MacGillivray, Swainson, Sprague, Bachman, et al.
His elephant folio, created to enable life-size prints of every species in North America, is still the largest format book ever published. The much-valued remaining full sets sell for millions of dollars.
Here are some birds you and I will never see:Ivory-bill, Bachman’s Warbler named after his goof friend Rev. Bachman who supplied daughters to marry each of the Audubon sons and much knowledge of birds and mammals…then the tragic, hunted-out Eskimo Curlew.

2xAudStJAYOur Steller’s Jay and Yellow-billed Magpie, both images drawn from specimens collected on West Coast by Nuttall and Townsend. These birds Audubon never saw in the wild himself.

More than a century after Catesby’s first drawings, and more than a decade after Wilson’s first American Ornithology, Audubon’d Ornithology eclipsed all the work that had been done before in North America. When he copied Wilson’s original drawings, he improved and energized the work. He was the first illustrator to put in realistic plant and landscape backgrounds in nearly all drawings. His romantic urges showed some images full of gore or drama or conflict. None of his birds posed calmly facing the camera as they do in today’s field guides.

The long-suffering Lucy Bakewell Audubon who kept together the household and the household finances while hubbie was in the woods, in England peddling his books, was somewhere in romantic dreamland. Behind every genius there is…somebody doing the laundry and cookin’ the meals.


  1. Thanks, Harry. Good synopsis of Audubon. We appreciate what he’s done just as we enjoy and appreciate your work.


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