The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘ornithology’

$190,000 Birds, and Other News

February 6, 2015 | by


Image via AbeBooks

  • Latin, the most famous dead language, is enjoying another of its many posthumous lives: “A language can fall out of everyday use, its forms can cease to change, and yet writers will still use it to do new things. This happened to Sumerian and Hebrew—and it happened to Latin too. People all over the Mediterranean world and beyond continued to use Latin after Virgil and Cicero—and they did so in endlessly creative ways.”
  • The hazards of open endings: Why does so much literary fiction refuse to provide a real resolution? “An authorial strategy now so widespread to have almost become the norm in literary fiction was so ‘unfamiliar’ back in 1925 that Woolf suggested readers ‘need a very daring and alert sense of literature to make us hear the tune.’ ”
  • A 1765 book about ornithology has sold for $190,000: “Published in Florence in Italian in five volumes, it contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, the book took ten years to complete … Some consider the book to be a commentary on 18th-century Italian high society because the bird poses are almost human.”
  • Technicolor turns 100: “We realize that color is violent and for that reason we restrained it,” an early adopter once said. But today, Technicolor has developed “this very vibrant, saturated palette ... When these films started getting more colorful, that's what audiences reacted to. They loved this artificial, fantasy, over-the-top palette. And that’s the way color shifted. It’s idealized.”
  • Running a bookstore is hard. Running an anarchist bookstore is even harder. And not because of the anarchy, it turns out—because of the antianarchy. At San Francisco’s Bound Together, “there’ve been plenty of adventures, like the time when the bookstore was threatened by Neo-Nazis in the eighties and members slept in the space nightly to protect it. There was also an attempted arson in the eighties, when someone dumped gasoline through the mail slot and tossed a lit match in to start a fire.”


The Uncommon Birds of George Edwards

April 3, 2014 | by

Edwards American Kingfisher

The American Kingfisher

edwards the bearded vulture

The Bearded Vulture

Edwards The Toucan or Brazilian Pye

The Toucan or Brazilian Pye


The Golden Bird of Paradise


The King Bird of Paradise


The Whooping Crane


The Black-Capped Lory


The Green Parrot of the West Indies


The Longest-Tailed Hummingbird


The Ornate Lorikeet


The Penguin


The Red African Gray Parrot


The Hawk-Headed Parrot


The Dodo and the Guinea Pig


The Summer Duck of Catesby

George Edwards, born today in 1694, is known as “the father of British ornithology”—as fine a paternal legacy as a guy can hope for. Today, his reputation as a naturalist endures in no small part because of his excellent drawings, which introduced English readers to scores of exotic creatures: first and foremost, birds. His greatest work is the four-volume Natural History of Uncommon Birds, whose full august title deserves to be seen in toto: A Natural History of Uncommon Birds: And of Some Other Rare and Undescribed Animals, Quadrupeds, Fishes, Reptiles, Insects, &c., Exhibited in Two Hundred and Ten Copper-plates, from Designs Copied Immediately from Nature, and Curiously Coloured After Life, with a Full and Accurate Description of Each Figure, to which is Added A Brief and General Idea of Drawing and Painting in Water-colours; with Instructions for Etching on Copper with Aqua Fortis; Likewise Some Thoughts on the Passage of Birds; and Additions to Many Subjects Described in this Work.

These drawings are taken from that work, which you can read here. Of particular note is his illustration of the dodo, which was, even then, extraordinarily rare and facing extinction.

As for the man: According to The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors, a contemporary of Edwards’s “described him as of medium stature, inclined to plumpness and of a cheerful, kindly nature ‘associated with a charming diffidence.’”



Bond. James Bond.

November 26, 2012 | by

James Bond was a well-known ornithologist. His Birds of the West Indies is an unusually rich source of names. According to Bond, the Sooty Tern is also known as the Egg Bird; Booby; Bubí; Hurricane Bird; Gaviota Oscura; Gaviota Monja; Oiseau Fou; Touaou. But when the keen birdwatcher Ian Fleming needed a name that sounded as ordinary as possible, he had to look no further than the title page of Bond’s great work. Why does the name of an actual ornithologist sound so right as the name of a fictional spy? Why couldn’t Fleming have used another pair of common monosyllables—John Clark, say? Bond is a solid, blue-chip, faith-giving kind of a name. Who wouldn’t prefer a government Bond under their mattress (we’re talking AAA British) to a petty clerk? Is your word your clerk? I don’t think so. Bond. It’s in the name.

—Colin Burrow, London Review of Books




A Labor of Love, Resurrected

May 4, 2012 | by

Here is a lovely story: a book finding a well-deserved audience 125 years after the author self-published it. The book is Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, and the author a twenty-nine-year-old naturalist and illustrator named Genevieve Jones. To quote the Princeton Architectural Press,

Inspired by viewing Audubon’s lithographs at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia … Genevieve Jones began working on a companion volume to The Birds of America, illustrating the nests and eggs that Audubon omitted. Her brother collected the nests and eggs, her father paid for the publishing, and Genevieve learned lithography and began illustrating the specimens. When Genevieve died suddenly of typhoid fever, her family labored for seven years to finish the project in her memory. The original book, sold by subscription in twenty-three parts, included Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt among its subscribers. Only ninety copies of the original book were published in 1886, and fewer than twenty-five copies now remain in institutions and private hands.

In PAP’s America's Other Audubon, author Joy Kiser reproduces all sixty-eight of Jones’s color lithographs, as well original text, photographs, field notes, and a key to eggs and birds. It’s a boon for those with an interest in natural history or ornithology, of course, but we are as engaged by the personal story as the beauty of the book itself. An enduring memento indeed.