John James Audubon (1785-1851)
Long-billed Curlew {Numenius Longirostris}
Plate 47, Engraved, printed, and colored by R. Hawell, 1834
Reproduction of the original engraving, c. 1960
Gift of Barnett Shepherd

John James Audubon (1785-1851) is this country’s premier wildlife artist. His Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints, is the standard against which all subsequent bird artists are measured. Although he had no role in the organization that bears his name, its founder George Bird Grinnell, chose his name for the organization's earliest work to protect birds and their habitats. Today it is synonymous with conservation the world over. Born in Haiti, Audubon is the illegitimate son of a French sea captain and his mistress. He was raised in Couëron, France by his adoptive parents until he was 18 when he emigrated to America to avoid conscription in the Napoleonic Wars. He lived near Philadelphia, where he hunted, studied, and drew birds and conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America; he tied strings around the legs of Eastern Phoebes, and discovered that birds return to the same habitat each year. Audubon amassed an impressive portfolio and was successful in business, married, and had two sons. But hard times hit, and in 1819 he set off to depict America's avifauna and in 1826 sailed to England, where his dramatic bird portraits and accounts of wilderness life, The American Woodsman, was an overnight success. He then published Birds of America and collaborated with ornithologist William MacGillivray on the Ornithological Biographies. Audubon had deep concern for conservation and sounded the alarm about the destruction of birds and habitats.