Big Birds, Little Birds

Posted by Ellen

Americans know the birds of John James Audubon from prints of his work bound into books, notably Birds of America (1838). The prints were based on watercolors painted by Audubon over a ten-year period beginning in 1827; for some reason, all the paintings are owned by the New-York Historical Society, which rarely displays any of them.

We were able to see some of the watercolors, however, during a recent exhibition celebrating the sesquicentennial of their purchase by the Historical Society, and the great blue heron above caught our eye. It seemed awfully blue; the great blue herons we have seen in real life are all much more grayish; the color reference in their name always struck us as more of a wish than an observation. Audubon, of course, was a world-class observer.

Well, we looked this stuff up on the internets, and the internets all insist that, gosh, the mistake was ours, not Audubon's. The bird above is a little blue heron, painted in Louisiana and native to coastal marshes there and elsewhere around the Gulf of Mexico.

Audubon's great blue heron, below, is properly gray in color, and very, very cool.