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John James Audubon’s 226th Birthday

If you’ve visited Google today, you might have noticed the interesting redesigned logo that features portraits of birds on its homepage.

This temporary logo is in honor of John James Audubon’s 226th birthday. Audubon, whose name is forever synonymous with efforts to save and study birds, was known for his quest to carefully draw accurate and life-sized pictures of birds.

Although he didn’t have any direct connection to the modern day National Audubon Society that was named in his honor, his selection as namesake to the conservation organization was no accident.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with John James Audubon’s story, it’s actually pretty unique.

During the late 18th century, Audubon developed a strong fascination and appreciation for birds and nature at a young age while he was being raised by his stepparents in France. He would find himself venturing out into the woods and admiring the plumage and elegant movement of birds.

When he was 18, he moved to America so he wouldn’t have to join Napoleon’s army. He had a strong interest in studying and drawing birds despite his father’s insistence that Audubon develop lead mines as his occupation. He went into business all the while drawing, marrying a woman named Lucy and having several children.

Eventually hard times came for Audubon and he was jailed for bankruptcy in 1819, so he decided to set off on a journey to depict birds in their natural environment like no other artist. At the time, it was common for artists to kill a bird, preserve them in a rigid stance and draw them. Audubon’s approach was much more natural. He still killed and preserved them, but he posed them in natural stances, so he could get their true image.

He continued drawing hundreds of birds and eventually his work really connected with the culture at the time. His collection of works Birds of America was a huge hit and sparked a great curiosity and appreciation for birds and art.

What many people might not realize is that Audubon was an avid hunter and actually killed all of the birds he drew. In his later life however, he wrote about the need for conservationism and expressed concerns about the destruction of natural bird habitats.

If you’re interested in learning more about Audubon’s life or his work, check out the Audubon Society’s biography webpage or look at some of his collections here.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.