What was John James Audubon to the birds of America?
I recently wrote about a bird sanctuary near San Antonio, TX, called the Mitchell lake Wildlife Refuge, that is being managed by the National Audubon Society. It made me stop and think about who was John James Audubon and set me off to do some research.
Audubon was the illegitimate son, born in Saint Dominque (Haiti), of a French sea captain and plantation owner. As a youngster, he was taken to Nantes, France, and took a lively interest in birds, nature, drawing, and music. At the age of 18, in 1803, he was sent to America partly to escape conscription into Napoleon’s armed forces. He lived on the family estate near Philadelphia, and hunted, studied, and drew birds. He conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North American and, in doing so, learned that birds returned to the very same nesting sites each year.
He was drawn further west and spent more than a decade as a businessman in Kentucky. After hard times hit, Audubon set off on a quest to draw American birdlife that took him down the Mississippi and eventually to New Orleans, where he spent several years exploring, and creating the images of dramatic bird portraits, along with lengthy descriptions of a woodsman’s life.
In 1826, sailed to England to attempt to market his partly finished collection and was an immediate success. His collection hit the right note at the height of the Continent’s Romantic era and he achieved fame and fortune. Audubon’s life is a story of triumph and accomplishment destined for the ages. He was a person of legendary strength and endurance and a keen observer of birds and nature and gained a deep concern for conservation. Audubon was an artist of enduring value. In December 2010, one of his books, “Birds of America”, was sold at auction for over $10 million, making it the world’s most expensive published book.
Surprisingly, Audubon had no role in the organization that bears his name. One of the founders of the early Audubon society was tutored by Lucy Audubon, John James’ widow. Knowing Audubon’s reputation, George Bird Grinnell chose his name for the organization’s early work in protecting birds and habitats. Today, his name remains synonymous with birds and bird conservation all over the world.
So thank Audubon for his long enduring art to the world and the awareness he created regarding protecting our wildernesses.
(Source: National Audubon Society)