Bird Man of Our Century

 

“A bird’s experience is far richer,
complex, and thoughtful than I’d imagined.”
David Allen Sibley

 

Birdman of the New Millennium
In a previous blog post I wrote about The Bird Man of America, John James Audubon. However, it appears there’s a new bird man of America artist that has been painting and studying birds for over 50 years. He has been called the most important illustrator of birds since Audubon.

David Allen Sibley, ornithologist, self-taught artist and author was born and raised in Plattsburgh, New York. His love of birds began at the age of eight years old while hiking with his father, Fred Sibley, famous ornithologist at Yale University.

Often after hiking with his dad, David would sketch all the different birds he had encountered from memory. His bird-watching hobby became a life-long passion. Much so, that he dropped out of college at Cornell University to pursue the study of birds.

Through the past five decades, Sibley has drawn and painted thousands of species of birds. His love of birds and painting them has never wavered. It was his goal to one day publish a field guide book for other bird watchers. With encouragement from his wife, also an ornithologist, he spent 14 years traveling, researching and painting birds for the book.

His hard work paid off and his goal was achieved in 2000, when his first book, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds was published. Shortly after publication, his first volume was on the New York best seller list and David followed up that book with numerous other popular guide books.

Even after half a century of bird-watching, David Sibley continues to study and learn new things about his favorite topic. When he did research for his recent book, What’s It’s Like to Be a Bird, he became convinced of something he had not previously anticipated: “Birds routinely make complex decisions and experience emotions”. In this book, he also covers such topics as; Do birds have a good sense of smell? Where do birds go at night? Where do they sleep?

With over 8.7 million species of birds throughout the entire world, I’m pretty sure his latest bird book won’t be the last for this bird man of our century.

Shine On

Audubon Photo Contest

“The Carrion Crow and Turkey-Buzzard
possess great power of recollection,
so as to recognize at a great distance
a person who has shot at them, and
even the horse on which he rides.”
John James Audubon

Christopher Smith

Roadrunner catch of the day by Christopher Smith

I’ve taken photographs of birds through the years and I find it one of the most difficult subjects to capture. My feathered friends can be ever elusive to observe in their natural habitat, but more difficult to capture clearly on my camera.

To bring awareness to climate change and how two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction, the National Audubon Society gives yearly recognition to masterful bird photographers.

Quite a few of my fellow Blogaholics are talented bird photographers. If they don’t already know about this yearly contest, maybe they should look into submitting one of their own spectacular shots.

With that being said, here are just five of the top ten winners from the 6,000 submissions received from the 2020 Audubon photo contest.

Shine On

Natalie Robertson

Warbler by Natalie Robertson

Bibek Ghosh

Hummingbird by Bibek Gosh

Sue Dougherty Genovesa Island in Ecuador

Frigatebird by Sue Dougherty

Gail Bisson

Bare-throated Tiger Heron by Gail Bisson

 

Bird Man of America

“A true conservationist is a man who knows
that the world is not given by his fathers,
but borrowed from his children.”
John James Audubon

Audobon

I recently read, This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon. It’s a short book of just 171 pages about Audubon and what he accomplished in his life.

Jean Jacques Audubon was born in Les Cayes in the French colony of Saint-Domingue now known as Haiti on April 26, 1785. He was raised in Couëron, near Nantes, France until 1803 when at the age of 18 his father obtained a false passport for his son to go to America to avoid being drafted in the Napoleonic Wars. Upon arriving in America, his father changed his son’s name to, John James Audubon.

As a young man, Audubon had a kinship for birds. “I felt an intimacy with them…bordering on frenzy that must accompany my steps through life.” Studying American birds, he was determined to illustrate his findings in a more realistic manner than most artists. Along with drawing and painting birds, he also recorded their behavior. He conducted the first known bird-banding on the continent: he tied yarn to the legs of eastern phoebes and discovered that they returned to the same nesting spots every year.

Audubon developed his own methods for drawing birds. First, he killed them, then used wires to prop them into a natural position, unlike the common method of many ornithologists, who prepared and stuffed the specimens into a rigid pose. He became proficient at specimen preparation and taxidermy.

Often when working on a large bird such as an eagle, he would spend up to four 15-hour days, preparing, studying, and drawing it. Each paintings are set true-to-life in their natural habitat, portraying the birds as if caught in motion, especially feeding or hunting.

Although he did paint the birds in his drawings, it was his assistant Joseph Mason who painted the plant life and backgrounds of many of Audubon’s bird studies. Unfortunately, Mason was never credited in any of Audubon’s drawings.

By 1824 Audubon began to seek a publisher for his bird drawings. He met Thomas Sully, one of the most famous portrait painters of the time and a valuable ally, however Audubon was rejected for publication. He took oil painting lessons from Sully and met Charles Bonaparte, who admired his work and recommended he go to Europe to have his bird drawings engraved.

Two years later at age 41, Audubon took his growing collection of work to England. He sailed from New Orleans to Liverpool with his portfolio of over 300 drawings. Audubon quickly gained notoriety in England where he raised enough money to begin publishing his major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America. It was printed on sheets measuring about 39 by 26 inches and contains more than 700 North American bird species, including 25 new species identified by Audubon. The cost of printing the entire work was $115,640 (over $2,000,000 today) and is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed.

John_James_Audubon_1826.jpg

John James Audubon

Today most copies of The Birds of America can only be found in museums. However, a complete copy of the first edition was sold in January 2012 at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan for $7.9 million.

Audubon died at his family home in northern Manhattan on January 27, 1851. Fifty-four years after his death, George Bird Grinnell, who was appalled by the negligent and mass slaughter of birds that he saw taking place created the National Audubon Society. As a boy, Grinnell was inspired by Audubon’s work. So much so, that when Grinnell decided to create an organization devoted to the protection of wild birds and their eggs, he didn’t hesitate in using Audubon’s name.

Because of market hunting and the fashion industry many of the birds Audubon painted became extinct. Thanks to the work of the National Audubon Society there are thousands of birds that have been saved. John James Audubon’s work and research inspired many. He left a body of work for generations to enjoy which makes him truly, the bird man of America.

Shine On