Feb 1, 2024 - News

Audubon's findings and failures on display at Field Museum

Underbellies of dead birds in a row on parchment paper.

Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

One of the rarest books in the world is now on display at the Field Museum.

Why it matters: The "Audubon's Birds of America" exhibit challenges the history of John James Audubon, the father of American birding, following a recent reckoning due to his past as a slave owner and anti-abolitionist.

Context: Many birding societies in recent years have moved to remove Audubon's name from their titles, including the Chicago Bird Alliance.

Large book opened to a page with detailed drawings of birds on tree branches.
Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Details: At the centerpiece of the exhibit are Audubon's intricately detailed, artistic renderings of American birds, displayed under glass.

  • The book is not usually available for public viewing, and each month museum staff will turn a page to reveal a new bird.
  • The exhibit also includes information about Audubon's past, including academic fraud around "The bird of Washington," a species that Audubon claimed to have found — but recorded without evidence — that has never been seen again, according to some experts.

What they're saying: Field Museum bird expert Doug Stotz says the birding world has a long road ahead to confront its ties to systemic racism.

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