Audubon’s Birthday

Jean Rabin, Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon, John James Audubon  1785 – 1851 was born in the French colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) to a French naval officer and privateer, and his mistress Jeanne Rabin, a chambermaid, and raised in France.
At age 18 he sailed to the United States to live on the family’s homestead on the Perkiomen Creek, just a few miles from Valley Forge. Audubon lived with the tenants in what he considered a paradise. “Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment; cares I knew not, and cared naught about them.”

On a prospecting trip downriver with a load of goods, Audubon joined up with Shawnee and Osage hunting parties, learning their methods, drawing bird specimens by the bonfire, and finally parting “like brethren.” Audubon had great respect for native Americans: “Whenever I meet Indians, I feel the greatness of our Creator in all its splendor, for there I see the man naked from His hand and yet free from acquired sorrow.”
After 1819, Audubon went bankrupt and was thrown into jail for debt. The little money he did earn was from drawing portraits, particularly death-bed sketches.

In 1826, Audubon took his growing collection of work to England. With letters of introduction to prominent Englishmen,he gained their quick attention. “I have been received here in a manner not to be expected during my highest enthusiastic hopes.”
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, and was lionized as “the American woodsman.” He raised enough money to begin publishing his Birds of America.

A contemporary French critic wrote, “A magic power transported us into the forests which for so many years this man of genius has trod. Learned and ignorant alike were astonished at the spectacle…It is a real and palpable vision of the New World.”
King George IV was an avid fan of Audubon and a subscriber to the book. He was elected to the Linnaean Society, and London’s Royal Society recognized his achievement by making him the second American fellow after Benjamin Franklin. While in Edinburgh to seek subscriptions for the book, Audubon gave a demonstration of his method of propping up birds with wire at the Natural History Association where student Charles Darwin was in the audience. He was also a hit in France, gaining the King and several of the nobility as subscribers

He followed Birds of America with a sequel Ornithological Biographies. This was a collection of life histories of each species written with Scottish ornithologist William NacGillivray.

In 1839 having finished the Ornithological Biography, Audubon returned to the United States with his family and bought an estate on the Hudson River (now Audubon Park).
He’s buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery and Mausoleum at 155th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.
Charles Darwin quoted Audubon three times in On the Origin of Species and also in later works. Among his accomplishments, Audubon discovered twenty-five new species and twelve new subspecies

 Audubon worked with  multiple layers of watercolor and added colored chalk or pastel to add softness to feathers, especially those of owls and herons. All species were drawn life size which accounts for the contorted poses of the larger birds–made to fit within the page– and sometimes used several birds in a drawing to present all views of their anatomy.  There were usually male and female variations, and occassionally juveniles. Smaller species were usually placed on branches with berries, fruit, and flowers, frequently with nests and eggs, and sometimes even natural predators, such as snakes. In later drawings, Audubon used assistants to render the habitat for him.
from TheFreeDictionary

In medieval times, the Gyrfalcon was considered a royal bird. The geographer and historian Ibn Said al-Maghribi (d. 1286) described certain northern Atlantic islands west of Ireland where these falcons would be brought from, and how the Egyptian Sultan paid 1,000 dinars for each Gyrfalcon (or, if it arrived dead, 500 dinars). Due to its rarity and the difficulties involved in obtaining it, in European falconry the Gyrfalcon was generally reserved for kings and nobles; very rarely was a man of lesser rank seen with a Gyrfalcon on his fist.

In the 12th century AD the Jurchen tribes rebelled against the Chinese Liao Dynast which was ruled by the Khitan. The primary cause was that the Khitan nobles, among whom swan hunting had become highly fashionable, extorted a big tax of Gyrfalcons (海东青 hǎidōngqīng in Chinese). Especially under the last Liao Emperor Yēlǜ Yánxĭ (耶律延禧), tax collectors were even entitled to use force to procure the demanded quantity of Gyrfalcons. The rebellion caught on, and the Jurchen under chieftain Wányán Āgǔdǎ (完颜阿骨打) annihilated the Liao empire in 1125, establishing the Jīn Dynasty in its stead.

Gyrfalcons are today expensive to buy, and thus owners and breeders may keep them secret to avoid theft. They can and often do fly long distances, so falconers may fit them with radio-trackers in order to aid recovery. Wild Gyrfalcons have immune systems that are naive to many pathogens found around human environments, and when taken from the wild often die quickly from disease.
from W


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