John James Audubon

John James Audubon (Jean-Jacques Audubon) (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851) was a French American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter.

He was notable for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats. His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. Audubon identified 25 new species.

From his earliest days, Audubon had an affinity for birds. “I felt an intimacy with them…bordering on frenzy that] must accompany my steps through life.” His father encouraged his interest in nature: “he would point out the elegant movement of the birds, and the beauty and softness of their plumage. He called my attention to their show of pleasure or sense of danger, their perfect forms and splendid attire. He would speak of their departure and return with the seasons.”

In 1803, his father obtained a false passport so that Audubon could go to the United States to avoid conscription in the Napoleonic Wars.

Audubon’s influence on ornithology and natural history was far reaching. Nearly all later ornithological works were inspired by his artistry and high standards. Charles Darwin quoted Audubon three times in On the Origin of Species and also in later works. Despite some errors in field observations, he made a significant contribution to the understanding of bird anatomy and behavior through his field notes. Birds of America is still considered one of the greatest examples of book art. Audubon discovered 25 new species and 12 new subspecies.

  • He was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Linnaean Society, and the Royal Society in recognition of his contributions.
  • The homestead Mill Grove in Audubon, PA is open to the public and contains a museum presenting all his major works, including Birds of America.
  • The Audubon Museum at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky houses many of Audubon’s original watercolors, oils, engravings and personal memorabilia.
  • In 1905, the National Audubon Society was incorporated and named in his honor. Its mission “is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds…”
  • He was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 22¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
  • On December 6, 2010, a copy of Birds of America was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $11.5 million, the second highest price for a single printed book.
  • On 26 April 2011, Google celebrated his 226th birthday by displaying a special Google Doodle on its global homepage.