John James Audubon (Jean-Jacques Audubon) (April 26, 1785 – January 27, 1851) was a French American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter. He was notable for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats. His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. Audubon identified 25 new species.
After 1819, Audubon went bankrupt and was thrown into jail for debt. The little money he earned was from drawing portraits, particularly death-bed sketches, greatly esteemed by country folk before photography. He wrote, "[M]y heart was sorely heavy, for scarcely had I enough to keep my dear ones alive; and yet through these dark days I was being led to the development of the talents I loved."
Audubon made some excursions out West where he hoped to record Western species he had missed, but his health began to fail. In 1848, he manifested signs of senility, his "noble mind in ruins." He died at his family home on January 27, 1851. Audubon is buried, close to the location of his home, at 155th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. There is an imposing monument in his honor at the cemetery, which is the center of the Heritage Rose District of NYC.
Audubon's influence on ornithology and natural history was far reaching. Nearly all later ornithological works were inspired by his artistry and high standards. Charles Darwin quoted Audubon three times in On the Origin of Species and also in later works. Despite some errors in field observations, he made a significant contribution to the understanding of bird anatomy and behavior through his field notes. Birds of America is still considered one of the greatest examples of book art. Audubon discovered 25 new species and 12 new subspecies.
He was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Linnaean Society, and the Royal Society in recognition of his contributions.
The homestead Mill Grove in Audubon, PA is open to the public and contains a museum presenting all his major works, including Birds of America.
The Audubon Museum at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, Kentucky houses many of Audubon's original watercolors, oils, engravings and personal memorabilia.
In 1905, the National Audubon Society was incorporated and named in his honor. Its mission "is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds..."
He was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 22¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
On December 6, 2010, a copy of Birds of America was sold at a Sotheby's auction for $11.5 million, the second highest price for a single printed book.
On 26 April 2011, Google celebrated his 226th birthday by displaying a special Google Doodle on its global homepage.
Named after him:
Audubon and Audubon Park, both in New Jersey. Many street signs in Audubon Park are named after birds drawn by him.
Audubon, Pennsylvania, also has the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Most of the streets in this small town are named after birds that he drew.
Audubon Elementary School, Audubon, Pennsylvania
The Audubon Nature Institute, a family of museums, parks and other organizations in New Orleans, eight of which bear the Audubon name.
The Audubon Park and country club in Louisville, Kentucky is in the area of his former general store.
Several towns and Audubon County, Iowa.
In Louisiana, John James Audubon Bridge (Mississippi River); Audubon Park & Zoo, New Orleans.
The northbound span of the Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Bridges was originally named the Audubon Memorial Bridge.
John James Audubon State Park and the Audubon Museum (located within the park) in Henderson, Kentucky.
Audubon Parkway, also in Kentucky, is a limited-access highway connecting Henderson with Owensboro, Kentucky.
Rue Jean-Jacques Audubon in Nantes and Rue Audubon in Paris.