John James Audubon's Birds of America
January 9, 2008 11:31 PM   Subscribe

John James Audubon's Birds of America with Audubon's original text. It's laid out by family and genus but there is also an alphabetical list of plates which has bigger versions of the bird pictures. There are also links to the state birds as well as birds driven to extinction since Audubon's time.
posted by Kattullus (16 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Audubon's writing is often vivid and fun to read. Here are the first two paragraphs of the text about the Great Auk. Extremely telling:
The only authentic account of the occurrence of this bird on our coast that I possess, was obtained from Mr. HENRY HAVELL, brother of my Engraver, who, when on his passage from New York to England, hooked a Great Auk on the banks of Newfoundland, in extremely boisterous weather. On being hauled on board, it was left at liberty on the deck. It walked very awkwardly, often tumbling over, bit every one within reach of its powerful bill, and refused food of all kinds. After continuing several days on board, it was restored to its proper element.

When I was in Labrador, many of the fishermen assured me that the "Penguin," as they name this bird, breeds on a low rocky island to the south-east of Newfoundland, where they destroy great numbers of the young for bait; but as this intelligence came to me when the season was too far advanced, I had no opportunity of ascertaining its accuracy. In Newfoundland, however, I received similar information from several individuals. An old gunner residing on Chelsea Beach, near Boston, told me that he well remembered the time when the Penguins were plentiful about Nahant and some other islands in the bay.
posted by Kattullus at 11:39 PM on January 9, 2008

Wonderful! Too bad the scans are low-res.
posted by honest knave at 11:44 PM on January 9, 2008

posted by hortense at 11:58 PM on January 9, 2008

A friend who is a painter ruined these for me. At first blush, Audobon's work seems so incredible for being lifelike, but the more you study them, the more unreal they look. They are stiff because he painted dead specimens, sometimes not even attempting to hide the fact. Wings "in flight" are two chevrons. Even the backgrounds have problems - the same iconic rocks used repeatedly, everything too tidy, etc. See for yourself - these paintings are oddly lacking in depth (by that I mean literally a flattened perspective). My friend went as far as to label them naive. Of course, as Americana, and as a sadly historical catalog/beastiary, it's great.
posted by AppleSeed at 4:17 AM on January 10, 2008

I believe Audubon insisted on his pictures being life-size (tricky with some of the really big birds) so presumably he would not really have liked them being reproduced on the internet - unless they could only be seen on huge screens the same size as the original page?
posted by Phanx at 4:49 AM on January 10, 2008

I'm glad to see this today. I'm home from work with a cold, and I love birds, and I don't have any particular book to read, and I don't have cable, and, well, this will be exciting to read. I agree, though, that it's sad the pictures are low-res.

Ah well.
posted by Stewriffic at 5:51 AM on January 10, 2008

Dis here Audubon, dis fella drew dem boids real nice. Real nice.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:17 AM on January 10, 2008

Ooooh. What else is going to be fun to do is figure out how Audubon's bird names have changed over time. Like, what's the Louisiana Tanager called now?

Heading over to Cornell's All About Birds website to work on the puzzle. Fab. Again, thanks!!
posted by Stewriffic at 6:18 AM on January 10, 2008

My kingdom for hi-res scans! My kingdom, I say!
posted by gwint at 8:15 AM on January 10, 2008

Outstanding post. I have longed to see Audubon's plates online. Thanks, Kattullus!
posted by Lynsey at 10:12 AM on January 10, 2008

The breeding site of the Great Auk that Audubon refers to is probably Funk Island (although that island is off the northeast coast of Newfoundland). One of my profs did research into Great Auk diet using bones that were/are still on the island.

Anyway, this is a great site. I'm going to have fun looking through them.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2008

It looks like the Louisiana Tanager is now called the Western Tanager, and doesn't even occur in Louisiana.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2008

Thank look life-like because he killed them.

"I have never drawn from a stuffed specimen," Audubon claimed in 1828. "Nature must be seen first alive." Like nearly everything else he said about himself, this statement was, at best, a half-truth. Audubon killed thousands of birds; before photography and high-resolution binoculars, that was the only possible way to render accurate images of them. But before Audubon shot them, he watched his subjects intensively, noting how they moved and behaved, the plants or habitats they preferred. When he had his bird in hand, he used wires to arrange the specimen in a characteristic pose. [source: Time, P. Gray]

And incidentally, I am writing this about four houses down from James Audubon's Key West residence. In fact.
posted by humannaire at 3:01 PM on January 10, 2008

Key West, humannaire? Damn, I could use a little Key West right now. You lucky summuvvabitch!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:48 PM on January 10, 2008

I hadn't realized Carolina Parakeets had been common in this area. Now I really feel deprived.
posted by dilettante at 5:08 PM on January 10, 2008

If you ever have the chance to see the elephant folios in person, do so. The books are 60-70 pounds, with leather-wrapped wood covers, and turning the pages takes half an hour and three people.
posted by djb at 6:53 PM on January 10, 2008

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