Audubon's Quadrupeds & Birds
Images from: Audubon, John James. The Quadrupeds of North America. New York: V. G. Audubon, 1854.
American Bison or Buffalo
"Whether we consider this noble animal as an object of the chase, or as an article of food for man, it is decidedly the most important of all our contemporary American quadrupeds; and as we can no longer see the gigantic mastodon passing over the broad savannas, or laving his enormous sides in the deep rivers of our wide-spread land, we will consider the Buffalo as a link, (perhaps sooner to be forever lost than is generally supposed,) which to a slight degree yet connects us with larger American animals, belonging to extinct creations."
Vol. 2, p. 35.
"The Grizzly Bear generally inhabits the swampy, well covered portions of the districts where it is found, keeping a good deal among the trees and bushes, and in these retreats it has its 'beds' or lairs. Some of these we passed by, and our sensations were the reverse of pleasant whilst in such thick, tangled, and dangerous neighbourhoods; the Bear in his concealment having decidedly the advantage in case one should come upon him unawares."
Vol. 3. p. 145.
"Alike beautiful and ferocious, the Jaguar is of all American animals unquestionably the most to be dreaded, on account of its combined strength, activity, and courage, which not only give it a vast physical power over other wild creatures, but enable it frequently to destroy man.
Compared with this formidable beast, the cougar need hardly be dreaded more than the wild cat, and the grizzly bear, although often quite as ready to attack man, is inferior in swiftness and stealthy cunning....
Col. Hays and several other officers of the Rangers, at the time J.W. Audubon was at San Antonio de Bexar, in 1845, informed him that the Jaguar was most frequently found about the watering-places of the mustangs, or wild horses, and deer....Col. Hays had killed four Jaguars during his stay in Texas. These animals are known in that country by the Americans as the 'Leopard,' and by the Mexicans as the 'Mexican tiger.'...
In a conversation with General Houston at Washington city, he informed us that he had found the Jaguar east of the San Jacinto river, and abundantly on the head waters of some of the eastern tributaries of the Rio Grande, the Guadaloupe, &c."
Vol. 3, pp. 3-6.
The Cougar Male
"This species at times attacks young cattle, and the male from which our drawing was made, was shot in the act of feeding upon a black heifer which he had seized, killed, and dragged into the edge of a thicket close adjoining the spot. The Cougar, is however, generally compelled to subsist on small animals, young deer, skunks, raccoons, &c. or birds, and will even eat carrion when hard pressed by hunger. His courage is not great, and unless very hungry, or when wounded and at bay, he seldom attacks man."
Vol. 2. p. 307.
"We have never seen any animal that could exceed him in digging. He would fall to work with his strong feet and long nails, and in a minute bury himself in the earth, and would very soon advance to the end of a chain ten feet in length. In digging, the hind, as well as the fore-feet, were at work, the latter for the purpose of excavating, and the former, (like paddles,) for expelling the earth out of the hole, and nothing seemed to delight him more than burrowing in the ground; he seemed never to become weary of this kind of amusement; when he had advanced to the length of his chain he would return and commence a fresh gallery near the mouth of the first hole; thus he would be occupied for hours, and it was necessary to drag him away by main force."
Vol. 1, p. 365.
"The sagacity and instinct of the Beaver have from time immemorial been the subject of admiration and wonder. The early writers on both continents have represented it as a rational, intelligent, and moral being, requiring but the faculty of speech to raise it almost to an equality, in some respects, with our own species. There is in the composition of every man, whatever may be his pride in his philosophy, a proneness in a greater or less degree to superstition, or at least credulity. The world is at best but slow to be enlightened, and the trammels thrown around us by the tales of the nursery are not easily shaken off....romantic stories have so fastened themselves on the mind of childhood, and have been so generally made a part of our education, that we now are almost led to regret that three-fourths of the old accounts of this extraordinary animal are fabulous; and that with the exception of its very peculiar mode of constructing its domicile, the Beaver is, in point of intelligence and cunning, greatly exceeded by the fox, and is but a few grades higher in the scale of sagacity than the common musk-rat."
Vol. 1, p. 349.
Maryland Marmot, Woodchuck, Groundhog, Old & Young
"We are gratified in being able to communicate the following facts, related to us by the Hon. Daniel Wadsworth, of Hartford, Connecticut. 'I kept,' said he to us, 'a fine Wood-Chuck in captivity, in this house, for upwards of two years. It was brought to me by a country lad, and was then large, rather wild, and somewhat cross and mischievous; being placed in the kitchen, it soon found a retreat, in which it remained concealed the greater part of its time every day. During several nights it attempted to escape by gnawing the door and window sills; gradually it became more quiet, and suffered itself to be approached by the inmates of the kitchen, these being the cook, a fine dog, and a cat; so that ere many months had elapsed, it would lie on the floor near the fire, in company with the dog, and would take food from the hand of the cook.
I now began to take particular interest in its welfare, and had a large box made for its use, and filled with hay, to which it became habituated, and always retired when inclined to repose. Winter coming on, the box was placed in a warm corner, and the Wood-Chuck went into it, arranged its bed with care, and became torpid. Some six weeks having passed without its appearing, or having received any food, I had it taken out of the box, and brought in to the parlour;--it was inanimate, and as round as a ball, its nose being buried as it were in the lower part of its abdomen, and covered by its tail; it was rolled over the carpet many times, but without effecting any apparent change in its lethargic condition; and being desirous to push the experiment as far as in my power, I laid it close to the fire, and having ordered my dog to lie down by it, placed the Wood-Chuck in the dog's lap.
In about half an hour, my pet slowly unrolled itself, raised its nose from the carpet, looked around for a few minutes, and then slowly crawled away from the dog, moving about the room as if in search of its own bed! I took it up, and had it carried down stairs and placed again in its box, when it went to sleep, as soundly as ever, until spring made its appearance. That season advancing, and the trees showing their leaves, the Wood-Chuck became as brisk and gentle as could be desired, and was frequently brought into the parlour. The succeeding winter this animal evinced the same dispositions, and never appeared to suffer by its long sleep. An accident deprived me of my pet, for having been trodden on, it gradually became poor, refused food, and finally died extremely emaciated.'"
Vol. 1, pp. 20-21.
Rocky Mountain Goat
"Standing 'at gaze,' on a table-rock projecting high above the valley beyond, and with a lofty ridge of stony and precipitous mountains in the background, we have placed one of our figures of the Rocky Mountain Goat; and lying down, a little removed from the edge of the cliff, we have represented another....
The Rocky Mountain Goat wanders over the most precipitous rocks, and springs with great activity from crag to crag, feeding on the plants, grasses, and mosses of the mountain sides, and seldom or never descends to the luxuriant valleys....This Goat indeed resembles the wild Goat of Europe, or the chamois, in its habits, and is very difficult to procure."
Vol. 3, pp. 129-131.
images in electronic format provided by the USNA Photo Lab. For a biography of Audubon and additional information see the National Gallery of Art's John James Audubon, American, 1785 - 1851
Images from: Audubon, John James. The Birds of North America. New York: J. J. Audubon; Philadelphia: J. B. Chevalier, 1840-1844.
White-headed Sea Eagle, or Bald Eagle
"The figure of this noble bird is well known throughout the civilized world, emblazoned as it is on our national standard, which waves in the breeze of every clime, bearing to distant lands the remembrance of a great people living in a state of peaceful freedom....The great strength, daring, and cool courage of the White-headed Eagle, joined to his unequalled power of flight, render him highly conspicuous among his brethren....
Before steam navigation commenced on our western rivers, these Eagles were extremely abundant there, particularly in the lower parts of the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the adjoining streams. I have seen hundreds while going down the mouth of the Ohio to New Orleans, when it was not at all difficult to shoot them. Now, however, their number is considerably diminished, the game on which they were in the habit of feeding, having been forced to seek refuge from the persecution of man farther in the wilderness. Many, however, are still observed on these rivers, particularly along the shores of the Mississippi."
Vol. 1, pp. 57, 62-63.
"This beautiful bird is merely a winter visitor of the United States, where it is seldom seen before the month of November, and whence it retires as early as the beginning of February. It wanders at times along the sea coast, as far as Georgia. I have occasionally seen it in the lower parts of Kentucky, and in the State of Ohio. It is more frequently met with in Pennsylvania and the Jerseys; but in Massachusetts and Maine it is far more abundant than in any other parts of the Union....
In the course of a winter spent at Boston, I had some superb specimens of the Snowy Owl brought to me, one of which, a male, was alive, having only been touched in the wing. He stood upright, keeping his feathers close, but would not suffer me to approach him. His fine eyes watched every movement I made, and if I attempted to walk around him, the instant his head had turned as far as he could still see me, he would open his wings, and with large hops get to a corner of the room, when he would turn towards me, and again watch my approach."
Vol. 1, pp 113, 115.
Common Osprey, Fish Hawk
"The motions of the Fish Hawk in the air are graceful, and as majestic as those of the Eagle. It rises with ease to a great height by extensive circlings, performed apparently by mere inclinations of the wings and tail. It dives at times to some distance with the wings partially closed, and resumes its sailing, as if these plunges were made for amusement only....
When it plunges into the water in pursuit of a fish, it sometimes proceeds deep enough to disappear for an instant. The surge caused by its descent is so great as to make the spot around it present the appearance of a mass of foam. On rising with its prey, it is seen holding it in the manner represented in the Plate. It mounts a few yards to the air, shakes the water from its plumage, squeezes the fish with its talons, and immediately proceeds towards its nest, to feed its young, or to a tree, to devour the fruit of its industry in peace."
Vol. 1, p. 66
"The Golden Eagle, although a permanent resident in the United States, is of rare occurrence, it being seldom that one sees more than a pair or two in the course of a year, unless he be an inhabitant of the mountains, or of the large plains spread out at their base. I have seen a few of them on the wing along the shores of the Hudson, others on the upper parts of the Mississippi, some among the Alleghanies, and a pair in the State of Maine. At Labrador we saw an individual sailing, at the height of a few yards, over the moss-covered surface of the dreary rocks."
Vol. 1, p. 50.
Image scans provided by the USNA Photo Lab. For a biography of Audubon and additional information see the National Gallery of Art's John James Audubon, American, 1785 - 1851