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I’ve always enjoyed watching birds! Growing up, both my parents and grandparents had copies of the same Bird Guide and I loved to try to identify as many birds as I could! I even thought I had discovered a new species- until I finally found it too in the bird book! (Turns out it was a Flicker.)
I think in this day and age of “certified professionals” we over look the value of studying God’s Creation ourselves. Many major scientific discoveries have been made by amateurs, and even if you never find something new to humanity in general, you most certainly will discover something new to yourself!
One notable amateur of history was John James Audubon. In 1803, after a tumultuous childhood, Audubon’s father sent him from France to America with a forged passport to escape being drafted into the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout his life he proved to be a jack-of-all-trades, starting multiple trading firms, painting portraits, working on the frontier, and (perhaps inspired by Charles Willson Peale) opening a Natural History Museum. He benefited from multiple mentors throughout his life who were willing to teach him new skills or help him improve skills he already had. Through it all though, he still found time to watch and sketch birds, as he had from his childhood. By 1812 he had amassed 200 drawings. Upon returning from a trip to Philadelphia however, he discovered that rats had destroyed his whole collection. Starting over from scratch, he endeavored to create even better and more life-like depictions. Inspired by Alexander Wilson’s earlier work, he declared in 1820 that he would draw every species of bird in America. Unlike other artists at the time, he used mostly watercolors and pastels. By the time the project was complete, he had not only painted all know North American birds of the time, he actually discovered (and of course painted) 25 new species and 12 new sub-species! His work, “Birds of America” depicts over 700 different birds and is considered one of the finest books on the subject ever created!
The particular painting I posted above depicts the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. When I think of Parrots and Parakeets I think of South America; however these colorful birds were native residents of the United States up until the turn of the century! Various factors lead to their demise, the chief culprits being the demand for their feathers on ladies hats and a suspected bird flu, but no one is entirely certain why they died out. The last Carolina Parakeet in captivity died in 1914. Today you can still see mounted specimens, one of which I got to see at the Charleston Museum a few years ago! (Click Here and scroll to the bottom of that page to see a picture of it and the also extinct Passenger Pigeon and Ivory Billed Woodpecker they have on display.) It was very exciting for me to get to see one in person, their plumage is amazingly more iridescent then what a camera can capture!
This is one of my favorite Audubon prints because of the vibrant colors and the happy demeanor of the Parakeets! The face markings are all different and he also included a less colorful female and a glimpse of one of their ears!
Personally, both the story of John James Audubon and viewing his prints inspires and reminds me to observe and savor all of God’s beautiful creations!
Soli Deo Gloria,