Audubon's Holy Grail Discovered
A holy grail of sorts was recently discovered when missing drawings of the famous ornithologist Audubon were announced. I realized when reading this that there must have been some things I missed in my history classes, because I assumed all this time that the National Audubon Society, famous for preservation and study of birds, had its foundation in some Greek word that somehow must connect to a word for winged creatures.
I was wrong. In fact, I was really wrong. The National Audubon Society got its name from John James Audubon, a French-American ornithologist and painter who lived in the early 1800s. Interestingly enough, John James changed his name twice in his lifetime.
Born illegitimate in Haiti, he was named Jeanne Rabin, after his mother. After she died, his father moved back to France, formally adopted his son and changed his name to Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon. When Jean-Jacques was 18, he moved to the United States and chose a more American name for himself, John James Audubon.
Audubon was fascinated with birds from an early age and his curiosity grew even more intense once he arrived in the US. He was one of the first bird-banders, having tied thread around the foot of an Eastern Phoebe to confirm his theory that they return to the same nest every year. His skill in drawing birds, making notations about their behavior and environment, and taxidermy improved over the years.
Eventually he took his paintings to Europe where he was described as the "the American Woodsman." He used this opportunity to publish a now famous book, Birds of America. Audubon was very poor during these years and often took to selling oil-painted copies of pictures from the book to make extra money. All the while, his passion for birds remained unfettered.
George Bird Grinnell chose Audubon as the name of the national organization because of Audubon's reputation for protecting birds and their habitats. As a result, "the name Audubon remains synonymous with birds and bird conservation the world over."
I'm sure today's discovery of Audubon's missing paintings will reap benefits in amounts that Audubon himself could not have imagined at the time.