Male passenger pigeon, on the Ohio River in Kentucky.
Drawing (reproduction) by John James Audubon, 1809. 6 x 9.5 inches.
This modern print records Audubon’s earliest surviving drawing of a passenger pigeon, dated December 11, 1809. The original drawing is in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.
No surviving image by Audubon attempts to capture the vision of millions of passenger pigeons that the artist described as blocking out the sun for three days. However, Audubon’s quietly perching adult male pigeon conveys the striking coloring of this species, which must have been even more stunning when multiplied by the hundreds of thousands. The slate blue-grey back and head contrast to the ruddy breast and brilliant red eye of this specimen. The sharp black beak, red feet, and long tail feathers distinguish it clearly from the mourning dove, a smaller species with more subdued coloring.
Loan: Privately held.