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print of John James Audubon, 1785-1851, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right in oval memorial portrait fringed by bird vignettes
John James Audubon, head-and-shoulders portrait fringed by bird vignettes. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs,

Celebrating Naturalist John James Audubon with Citizen Science

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This post was written by Science Reference Specialist Ashley Cuffia.

illustration of Cardinal Grosbeak. From The Birds of America (Elephant Folio) by John James Audubon,
Cardinal Grosbeak. From The Birds of America (Elephant Folio) by John James Audubon, Vol. II, Pl. 159.

John James Audubon was born April 26, 1785 in Les Cayes, Saint-Domingue (Haiti). He was a renowned naturalist and famous for his drawings and paintings of North American birds. At age eighteen, Audubon immigrated to the United States, where he observed North America’s birds and proceeded to conduct the earliest known bird banding experiment in 1804. Audubon is best known for his creation of “The Birds of America.”

This series of books was first published between 1827 and 1838 and contained 435 hand-colored plates housed in four volumes. A selection of images from the Library’s first edition of  his “Birds of America” book, often referred to as the “elephant folio” because of their size (39.37 inches tall), can be viewed online on our Rare Books/Special Collections website and Pinterest board Audubon’s Birds.

Audubon died in New York City on January 27, 1851 at the age of 65. He left behind a lasting legacy of the wildlife of North America and a dream that it be preserved for future generations. In 1886, George Bird Grinnell created the Audubon Society of New York, which grew and eventually led to the creation of both the National and the International Audubon Societies. Mr. Grinnell named the organization after John James Audubon and dedicated it to the preservation of birds and their protection from the increasing threat of extinction. Through his extensive observations, study, and illustrations of the birds of North America, Grinnell became known as one of the forefathers of the activity of birding.

Illustration of Indigo Bird. From the Birds of America (Elephant Folio) by John James Audubon,
Indigo Bird. From the Birds of America (Elephant Folio) by John James Audubon, Vol. I, Pl. 74.

Birding and birdwatching–what’s the difference?

To most people these two terms seem interchangeable and you would think they both mean someone is looking at birds. The difference is that birding, is like playing baseball, whereas birdwatching is like watching baseball. A birder is actively seeking out and identifying birds and  learning everything they can about different species. A birdwatcher is someone who enjoys the birds around them when taking a walk or sitting outside.

Interested in knowing more about birding? Check out the following resources!

Want to help others learn about birds and their populations? Want to help the scientists with their research? Consider becoming a Citizen Scientist!

Photograph of a woman scientist published between 1909-1923.

What is a ‘Citizen Scientist,’ and how do you become one?

Citizen scientists are everyday people collecting data by taking photos, documenting changes in nature, using smartphone sensors to help monitor water and air quality, or playing games to help advance medical research.  A citizen science project can involve one person or millions of people working together towards a goal. There are four common features of citizen science practice: Anyone can participate, participants use the same protocols as the scientists, data can help real scientists come to real conclusions, and everyone will have access to the data.

Here are some citizen scientist project resources that you could participate in and most can be done from home.

To learn more about John James Audubon please see the following resources:


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