About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Who is Audubon and how did his name become synonymous with birds?

Happy Birdday Mr. Audubon!

Despite some errors in field observations, John James Audubon made a significant contribution to the understanding of bird anatomy and behavior through his field notes and art.

Audubon was named Jean Rabin on the day of his birth on April 26, 1785 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). He was the son of a French naval officer, Lieutenant Jean Audubon and his mistress Jeanne Rabine, a 27 year old creole chambermaid who died a few months after giving birth.

In 1794 Audubon was brought to France and adopted formally by his father and his wife, Anne Moynet Audubon, whom he had married years before. There he was renamed Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon.

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 planned to make a seaman of his son, however he quickly found out that he was susceptible to seasickness and not proficient in mathematics or navigation. After failing the officer's qualification test, Audubon returned to exploring the fields again, focusing on birds.

In 1803, his father obtained a false passport so that an 18 year old Audubon could go to the United States to avoid conscription in the Napoleonic Wars. There he changed his name to an anglicized form John James Audubon and set about to study American birds, determined to illustrate his findings in a more realistic manner than most artists did back then.

He wandered around the country and earned a living as a portrait artist and art teacher, in preparation for the eventual publication of a book of all the birds of North America. In 1824 his book of bird drawings was rejected for publication in the US. So a couple years later, at age 41, Audubon took his growing collection of work to England where the British could not get enough of his images of backwoods America and its natural attractions.

He met with great acceptance as he toured around England and Scotland, as "the American woodsman" and raised enough money to begin publishing his Birds of America. Audubon’s birds were popular not only for their great detail but also because he tried to place them in their natural habitats. His drawings usually were based on long hours of observation, as well as specimens in the hand that he hunted and posed in lifelike positions. His monumental book ended up containing 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species. After its publication the name Audubon became synonymous with birds.

He continued to paint birds and animals successfully until his death in 1851.

Source: John James Audubon from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_James_Audubon

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