Audubon's Five "Mystery Birds"

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
23,441
Reaction score
34,959
Points
314
Location
Out of Bounds
In response to a mention elsewhere on the forum, here's a thread dedicated to Audubon's 5 "mystery birds."

John James Audubon: Crazy, Wrong, or Neither?

Audubon painted a bunch of birds that no one has seen since. We explore the most likely options behind the mystery birds.


John James Audubon’s Birds of America is an incredible feat—in large part thanks to how comprehensive the 435 watercolor paintings are for their era. Audubon wasn’t just working at a time when European Americans didn’t know the breadth of American birdlife…they didn’t really know the extent of America itself. Painted during the early 1800s with little more than a rifle and some friends’ help, Audubon was able to correctly distinguish and paint (to scale!) more than 400 distinct species—more than half of our native birds.

For Audubon, every unusual song could signal a new bird, every isolated swamp or mountain range could host species no ornithologist had ever seen before. All that possibility must have been exhilarating—maddening, even. To avoid missing out, he shot heaps of birds…and compatriots exploring far-flung regions of the continent brought him heaps more. Among the messes of (dead) birds he had to sort through were weird-looking juveniles, birds with plumage anomalies, or even the occasional hybrid.

So it’s no wonder the man didn’t get everything right. And indeed, there are several birds painted and explained in Birds of America that are not, in fact, actual species. Some are immature birds mistaken for adults of a new species (the mighty “Washington’s Eagle” was, in all likelihood, an immature Bald Eagle). Some were female birds that didn’t look anything like their male partners (“Selby’s Flycatcher” was a female Hooded Warbler).

Others were…well, no one really knows. Audubon painted a handful of birds that aren’t an exact match for anything we’ve currently got. These are Audubon’s mystery birds.

Maybe they’re just mistaken plumages, like the eagle or the flycatcher, and we still can’t sort it out. Maybe they were birds that Audubon just painted poorly, or from a vague memory, or from a partially decomposed corpse.

Maybe they’re species that have gone extinct since Audubon painted them. There certainly are a bunch of those, sadly, including Bachman’s Warbler, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet. It’s certainly possible that some already-range-restricted species could have been wiped out before conservationists even knew to notice.

Or maybe these birds are still out there somewhere, flitting around unseen. In any case, it’s worth taking a look. Here’s a rundown of Audubon’s mystery birds, and what the likely scenario behind each one might be. ....
FULL STORY: https://www.audubon.org/news/john-james-audubon-crazy-wrong-or-neither
 

EnolaGaia

I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
Staff member
Joined
Jul 19, 2004
Messages
23,441
Reaction score
34,959
Points
314
Location
Out of Bounds

Frideswide

Fortea Morgana :) PeteByrdie certificated Princess
Staff member
Joined
Jul 14, 2014
Messages
14,039
Reaction score
16,890
Points
289
Location
An Eochair
Reminds me a little of things like Mandeville's Travels. The combination of known things (to us) and then suddenly a fantastic beast!
 

Kondoru

Antediluvian
Joined
Dec 5, 2003
Messages
7,987
Reaction score
3,313
Points
239
I once had a chance at purchasing a copy of that book. Alas did not have the money at the time.

And its a huge volume, as big (though dimensionally different) as a family bible...
 
Top