In Audubon’s time the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet had not yet become America’s most celebrated (and lamented) extinctions…
|Audubon’s painting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which was considered extinct until 2006 when it was reportedly rediscovered (source: Wikimedia Commons)|
As Google has already informed you, today is the 226th birth anniversary of John James Audubon, the French-American ornithologist, naturalist and painter.
In Audubon’s time the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) had not yet become America’s most celebrated extinctions. Both species were abundant. The story went that migrating flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the sky for hours. By 1920, both species had been extirpated by indiscriminate hunting. While skins and grainy black-and-white images of these birds are still to be found in museum galleries and catalogues, we have Audubon to thank for depicting their vibrant colours on canvas. In Audubon’s paintings, dead birds come alive.
|Audubon’s vibrant image of this flock of extinct Carolina Parakeets bursts with life (source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Birds have always awakened the artist in the poet and the poet in the artist. Just as Audubon’s bold brush-strokes captured the beauty of fluttering life in the American woodland, birds piqued the imagination of his contemporary, a reclusive poet who lived and loved in her cloistered nook of Amherst, Massachusetts. Birds fascinated Emily Dickinson, and she often portrayed them as redeemers of faith.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
–from “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson
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