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John Audubon


To repay evils with kindness was the religion I was taught to practice, and this will forever be my rule.

Almost every day, instead of going to school, I made for the fields, where I spent my day.

John James Audubon was anornithologist (bird scientist) and painter. His beautiful, detailed paintings of birds have long been used by researchers and scientists to learn more about our feathered friends.


Fun Facts

  • John James Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785. His father was a French lieutenant who owned a sugar plantation there.
  • Eventually, the family moved back to France, where John spent most of his childhood. He loved wandering through the woods and fields near his home. His father taught him about the birds and animals living there. During this time, John began to sketch and paint the birds he saw.
  • John’s father hoped to make him a sailor and military leader. John was sent to military school when he was only twelve-years-old. He quickly discovered that the naval life wasn’t for him. He was seasick most of the time and disliked the mathematics and navigational skills necessary for a seaman. He was thrilled when his father allowed him to return home.
  • John moved to the United States as a young man, where he lived and worked on a farm owned by the family.
  • For years, John worked on his illustrations, often with discouraging results. He threw away any that he wasn’t happy with. Several times, his paintings were destroyed. Once when he returned home after an extended period away, he discovered that rats had eaten 200 illustrations.
  • With his wife’s encouragement, John kept painting and drawing. In 1826, he traveled to England with a portfolio of 300 paintings. In England, his paintings were warmly welcomed. So much so that he raised enough money to publish his paintings in a book The Birds of America. The book contained paintings of over 700 species of American birds and was incredibly expensive to publish – over 2 million dollars in today’s money. It took him fourteen years to write, illustrate, and publish the book.
  • John Audubon continued his studies and illustrations of birds. On a typical day, he woke at 3 and was out in the fields until 1:00 in the afternoon. Then he spent the rest of the day painting.


Questions and Answers

Question: Did John Audubon find success during his lifetime?

Answer: Audubon’s books and paintings were well-received and he earned several awards. But, he was never a financial success simply because the books were so expensive to print. After his death, his wife, Lucy, lived in poverty.


Learn More

Visit the National Audubon Society to see Audubon’s paintings and learn more about birds.



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