- Last Updated: March 29, 2023
by John S. Farnsworth, PhD.
I have two full-size quarto Audubon prints under glass in my cabin. The first, Plate XI from The Birds of America, depicts Falco Washingtonii, a non-extant species of eagle that Audubon claimed to have drawn from nature. When ornithologists insisted that Audubon show them the specimen from which he had sketched, Audubon was unable to do so simply because such a specimen never existed. It was a fake bird. The second print, Plate IXXVII, is of Belted Kingfishers, also labelled “drawn from nature.” The print depicts three birds, two males and one female, but the female’s two belts were colored the same hue, which those of you who have seen female kingfishers in nature will recognize is incorrect.
John James Audubon was a flawed man, and not a particularly honest or accurate ornithologist. The National Audubon Society, after a year of consultation, study and deliberation, has decided not to abandon the Audubon name despite the fact that he enslaved persons of African descent. I was one of many chapter leaders with whom NAS consulted, and I recommended that the name be dropped. Regardless, the decision has been made that the name has transcended its namesake, and has come to stand for more than a century of conservation on behalf of birds. While this decision troubles me, I honor the deliberative process that led to it, and I hope we can move forward united behind our conservation legacy.
As part of this decision, NAS has committed $25 million toward its efforts in diversity and inclusion. It is my hope that Skagit Audubon, similarly, will increase its outreach efforts to be a more diverse, inclusive community where birders of color feel they can belong.