HOW AUDUBON CAME TO KNOW ABOUT BIRDS
JOHN JAMES AU-DU-BON knew more about the birds of this country than
any man had ever known before. He was born in the State of
Lou-is-i-a-na. His father took him to France when he was a boy. He
went to school in France.
The little John James was fond of stud-y-ing about wild animals. But
most of all he wished to know about birds. Seeing that the boy liked
such things, his father took pains to get birds and flowers for him.
While he was yet a boy at school, he began to gather birds and other
animals for himself. He learned to skin and stuff them. But his
stuffed birds did not please him. Their feathers did not look bright,
like those of live birds. He wanted living birds to study.
His father told him that he could not keep so
 many birds alive. To
please the boy he got him a book with pictures in it. Looking at these
pictures made John James wish to draw. He thought that he could make
pictures that would look like the live birds.
But when he tried to paint a picture of a bird, it looked worse than
his stuffed birds. The birds he drew were not much like real birds. He
called them a "family of cripples." As often as his birthday came
round, he made a
bonfire of his bad pictures. Then he would begin
All this time he was learning to draw birds. But he was not willing to
make pictures that were not just like the real birds. So when he grew
to be a man he went to a great French painter whose name was David.
David taught him to draw and paint things as they are.
Then he came back to this country, and lived awhile in Pennsylvania.
Here his chief study was the wild creatures of the woods.
He gathered many eggs of birds. He made pictures of these eggs. He did
not take birds' eggs to break up the nests. He was not cruel. He took
only what he needed to study.
He would make two little holes in each egg. Then he would shake the
egg, or stir it up with a little stick or straw, or a long pin. This
 would break up the inside of the egg. Then he would blow into one of
the holes. That would blow the inside of the egg out through the
These egg shells he strung together by running strings through the
holes. He hung these strings of egg shells all over the walls of his
room. On the mantelpiece he put the stuffed skins of squirrels,
raccoons, opossums, and other small animals. On the shelves his
friends could see frogs, snakes, and other animals.
He married a young lady, and brought her to live in this
his dead snakes, frogs, and strings of birds' eggs. She liked what he
did, and was sure that he would come to be a great man.
He made up his mind to write a great book about American birds. He
meant to tell all about the birds in one book. Then in another book he
would print pictures of the birds, just as large as the birds
themselves. He meant to have them look just like the birds.
To do this he must travel many thousands of miles. He must live for
years almost all of the time in the woods. He would have to find and
shoot the birds, in order to make pictures of them. And he must see
how the birds lived, and how they built their nests, so that he could
tell all about
 them. It would take a great deal of work and trouble.
But he was not afraid of trouble.
That was many years ago. Much of our country was then covered with
great trees. Audubon sometimes went in a boat down a
lonesome river. Sometimes he rode on
Often he had to travel on foot
through woods where there were no roads. Many a time he had to sleep
out of doors.
He lost his money and became poor. Sometimes he had to paint portraits
to get money to live on. Once he turned dancing master for a while.
But he did not give up his great idea. He still studied birds, and
worked to make his books about American birds. His wife went to
teaching to help make a living.
After years of hard work, he made paintings of nearly a thousand
birds. That was almost enough for his books. But, while he was
traveling, two large rats got into the box in which he kept his
pictures. They cut up all his paintings with their teeth, and made a
nest of the pieces. This almost broke his heart for a while. For many
nights he could not sleep, because he had lost all his work.
But he did not give up. After some days he took his gun, and went into
the woods. He said to himself, "I will begin over again. I can make
better paintings than those that the rats spoiled."
 But it took him
four long years and a half to find the birds, and make the
He was so careful to have his drawings just like the birds, that he
would measure them in every way. Thus he made his pictures just the
size of the birds themselves.
At last the great books were printed. In this country, in France, and
in England, people praised the won-der-ful books. They knew that
Au-du-bon was indeed a great man.