Download 435 High Resolution Images from John J. Audubon’s The Birds of America

In our expe­ri­ence, bird lovers fall into two gen­er­al cat­e­gories:

Keen­ly obser­vant cat­a­loguers like John James Audubon …

And those of us who can­not resist assign­ing anthro­po­mor­phic per­son­al­i­ties and behav­iors to the 435 stars of Audubon’s The Birds of Amer­i­ca, a stun­ning col­lec­tion of prints from life-size water­col­ors he pro­duced between 1827 and 1838.

Our sus­pi­cions have lit­tle to do with biol­o­gy, but rather, a cer­tain zesti­ness of expres­sion, an overem­phat­ic beak, a droll gleam in the eye.

The Audubon Society’s new­ly redesigned web­site abounds with trea­sure for those in either camp:

Free high res down­loads of all 435 plates.

Mp3s of each specimen’s call.

And vin­tage com­men­tary that effec­tive­ly splits the dif­fer­ence between sci­ence and the unin­ten­tion­al­ly humor­ous locu­tions of anoth­er age.

Take for instance, the Bur­row­ing Owl, as described by self-taught nat­u­ral­ist Thomas Say (1787–1834):

It is delight­ful, dur­ing fine weath­er, to see these live­ly lit­tle crea­tures sport­ing about the entrance of their bur­rows, which are always kept in the neat­est repair, and are often inhab­it­ed by sev­er­al indi­vid­u­als. When alarmed, they imme­di­ate­ly take refuge in their sub­ter­ranean cham­bers; or, if the dread­ed dan­ger be not imme­di­ate­ly impend­ing, they stand near the brink of the entrance, brave­ly bark­ing and flour­ish­ing their tails, or else sit erect to recon­noitre the move­ments of the ene­my.

The notes of ornithol­o­gist John Kirk Townsend (1809 – 1851) sug­gest that not every­one was as tak­en with the species as Say (who was, in all fair­ness, the father of Amer­i­can ento­mol­o­gy):

Noth­ing can be more unpleas­ant than the bag­ging of this species, on account of the fleas with which their plumage swarms, and which in all prob­a­bil­i­ty have been left in the bur­row by the Bad­ger or Mar­mot, at the time it was aban­doned by these ani­mals. I know of no oth­er bird infest­ed by that kind of ver­min. 

The Com­mon Gallinule, above, sug­gests that there’s often more to these birds than meets the eye. His some­what sheep­ish look­ing coun­te­nance belies the red hot love life Audubon recounts:

… the man­i­fes­ta­tions of their ama­to­ry propen­si­ty were quite remark­able. The male birds court­ed the females, both on the land and on the water; they fre­quent­ly spread out their tail like a fan, and moved round each oth­er, emit­ting a mur­mur­ing sound for some sec­onds. The female would after­wards walk to the water’s edge, stand in the water up to her breast, and receive the caress­es of the male, who imme­di­ate­ly after would strut on the water before her, jerk­ing with rapid­i­ty his spread tail for awhile, after which they would both resume their ordi­nary occu­pa­tions.

Being that we are firm­ly plant­ed in the sec­ond type of bird lover’s camp, this ornitho­log­i­cal cor­nu­copia main­ly serves to whet our appetite for more Falseknees, self-described bird nerd Joshua Bark­man’s beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered web­com­ic.

Yes, Audubon’s Indi­go Birdaka Petit Pape­bleu, “an active and live­ly lit­tle fel­low” who “pos­sess­es much ele­gance in his shape, and also a cer­tain degree of firm­ness in his make” was sep­a­rat­ed by a cen­tu­ry or so from “Mood Indi­go”—we pre­sume that’s the tune stuck in Barkman’s bird’s head—but he does look rather pre­oc­cu­pied, no?

Pos­si­bly just think­ing of meal­worms…

Explore Audubon’s Birds of Amer­i­ca by chrono­log­i­cal or alpha­bet­i­cal order, or by state, and down­load them all for free here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cor­nell Launch­es Archive of 150,000 Bird Calls and Ani­mal Sounds, with Record­ings Going Back to 1929

What Kind of Bird Is That?: A Free App From Cor­nell Will Give You the Answer

Explore an Inter­ac­tive Ver­sion of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mur­al That Doc­u­ments the Evo­lu­tion of Birds Over 375 Mil­lion Years

Mod­ernist Bird­hous­es Inspired by Bauhaus, Frank Lloyd Wright and Joseph Eich­ler

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Novem­ber 7 for her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (5)
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  • Amy says:

    Is there a way to down­load an image with­out sign­ing up for a newslet­ter? The newslet­ter requires a US zip code. I don’t live in the US.

  • Kathy Howard says:

    This is found in the Terms of use.
    “The Ser­vice is con­trolled and oper­at­ed from its facil­i­ties in the Unit­ed States. Open Cul­ture makes no rep­re­sen­ta­tions that the Ser­vice is appro­pri­ate or avail­able for use in oth­er loca­tions. Those who access or use the Ser­vice from oth­er juris­dic­tions do so at their own voli­tion and are entire­ly respon­si­ble for com­pli­ance with all applic­a­ble Unit­ed States and local laws and reg­u­la­tions, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to export and import reg­u­la­tions. You may not use the Ser­vice if you are a res­i­dent of a coun­try embar­goed by the Unit­ed States, or are a for­eign per­son or enti­ty blocked or denied by the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment. Unless oth­er­wise explic­it­ly stat­ed, all mate­ri­als found on the Ser­vice are sole­ly direct­ed to indi­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies, or oth­er enti­ties locat­ed in the Unit­ed States.”

  • Dawn says:

    Hel­lo, Is there a way to down­load ALL of the images in one file instead of one by one? I have a 9 year old daugh­ter who is home­schooled and enjoys bird study as well as nature art/journaling. We would like to have a dig­i­tal abil­i­ty to take with us. Thanks!

  • Farid Ahmed says:

    I want to free down­load of this book.

  • Hernan says:

    Hi Amy, you can use any zip code in order to down­load the images, by exam­ple, the New York zip code: 10004. Hope this would use­ful to you.

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