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A Carbonated Swamp Warbler, as painted by John James Audubon
The ornithologist and artist painted from nature, yet the stars of several of his stunning bird folios have puzzled ornithologists to this day. These birds have never been positively identified, and no identical specimens have been confirmed since Audubon painted them.
The five “mystery birds,” as they are often referred to, as labeled by Audubon: Townsend’s Finch (identified in a later edition of 'Birds Of America' as Townsend’s Bunting), Cuvier’s Kinglet, Carbonated Swamp Warbler, Small-headed Flycatcher and Blue Mountain Warbler.
Curator of drawings at the New York Historical Society, Roberta J. M. Olson, points out Audubon worked during a fledgling stage of American ornithology and helped map the species of America. He did not base his work on other people’s descriptions. “Drawn from nature” was his credo, and he inscribed it on many of his works. A vast majority of his likenesses and behavioral descriptions have stood the test of time.
He wrote himself that some of his birds could not be identified. The presence of a few “mystery birds” in his work “is a testament to the kinds of challenges that the artist-naturalist faced in his pioneering attempt to study and codify taxonomically hundreds of American birds in this pre-photographic age,” Dr. Olson said. FULL STORY
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