Pioneering ornithologist John James Audubon turns 226 today, and Google has marked that anniversary with a doodle that features birds of prey, songbirds and a watchful owl resting on tree branches, but also ready for flight.
Audubon, a French-American naturalist born in the late 18th century, felt a kinship to birds that neared the manic: “I felt an intimacy with them...bordering on frenzy [that] must accompany my steps through life,” he once said.
Audubon went on to paint, describe, and catalogue the birds of North America in greater detail than anyone had before, much of it through his magnum opus The Birds of America .
The Birds of America was issued in 87 parts in June 1838. It contained 435 hand-colored engravings of 1,065 birds of 489 species. It was overwhelming.
The Birds of America later influenced Charles Darwin as he wrote the seminal work “On the Origin of Species.” But the initial reaction by naturalists, who were accustomed to seeing specimens shown plainly against a blank background, was to object to Audubon’s dramatic poses and settings. Audubon often endowed the birds he drew with almost human attitudes, but it was because he loved them so.
Audubon Society locations and Audubon Zoos are across the country, but for those stuck at a desk today, the sound of two whooping cranes can come to you. In this video, they call out in unison at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, using sounds that rival many a horn:
And then see Audubon’s exquisite whooping crane oil painting here.