NCMA Recommends: The Birds of America

John James Audubon, Fox-Coloured Sparrow, Plate 108 from The Birds of America, 1827—38, hand-colored engraving and aquatint on paper, 40 — 26 in., Transfer from the North Carolina State Library

A renowned ornithologist and painter, John James Audubon (1785—1851) completed his monumental work, The Birds of America, in 1838. Audubon’s “grand idea” was to depict for the first time all of the birds native to North America. His goal was to “offer a beautiful monument to the varied splendors of American nature.”

Collecting specimens took him from Canada to Florida and as far west as North Dakota and Texas. By the end of the decade-long project, his approximately 500 species nearly doubled the total shown in any earlier publication. Though he was self-taught, Audubon earned the respect of naturalists and artists around the world.

The North Carolina Museum of Art owns one of 134 known complete sets of Audubon’s four-volume masterwork. The pages of each volume are turned to show a new bird every three months; visit the Museum to see the current folios on view before they change on February 9.

The Great Backyard Bird Count 2021

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual citizen science extravaganza that occurs this year from February 12 to 15. This free and fun event is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. During the GBBC, participants count wild birds for at least 15 minutes and submit their data for scientist use at birdcount.org.

Anyone can take part, and you can participate from your backyard, a local park, or even your kitchen window. Here are some helpful resources and local events:

– The GBBC website offers online guides and ID tips to hone your skills, including the free Audubon Bird Guide, Merlin ID, which identifies birds from uploaded photos, and Song Sleuth, which puts a name to a birdsong.

Head to this page to find easy-to-follow instructions on sharing your data.

– On Monday, February 8, tune into our neighbor Prairie Ridge Ecostation’s Facebook page to watch a short video all about getting ready for the GBBC.

– Our partners at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will be teaching Intro to Bird ID on Monday, February 8, at 4 pm. Learn more and sign up for this virtual workshop here.

– The City of Raleigh is hosting small in-person programs at Durant Nature Park, Walnut Creek Wetland Center, and other sites. Find more information and register here.

Photos clockwise from top left: Sipu Kumar/GBBC; Justin Graham/GBBC; Mike Fernandez/Audubon; Donna Williams/GBBC

Birds of the Museum Park

Many of the birds featured in Audubon’s Birds of America can also be found in the Museum Park! Join Park Ranger Chantal Taunton on a short exploration to discover some of these and other native birds.

Immerse Yourself

In 2019 Museum visitors were invited to become immersed in John James Audubon’s natural world. The Birds of America came to life in an animated room full of the sights and bird songs of a nineteenth-century American forest. Visit our Circa blog post for Audubon fast facts.

Film Recommendations

These two documentary films about birds depict their magnificent migration journeys and show how they can transcend borders and bring people together.

Winged Migration (2003). Directors: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud. This Academy Award—nominated documentary about bird migration was shot on all seven continents over the course of four years. Rent on Amazon or iTunes.

Birders (2019). Director: Otilia Portillo Padua. This short documentary depicts bird-watchers on the US-Mexico border and beautifully conveys how birds can bring people together. Watch on Netflix.

Birds on the Wires

Taking inspiration from a photograph he saw in a newspaper in 2009, composer Jarbas Agnelli transcribed the image of birds sitting on electrical wires into a short, beautiful piece of calming music. His video was named one of the Top 25 Videos at the YouTube Play Festival in 2010.

Reading Recommendations

Audubon: On the Wings of the World is a beautifully illustrated and imaginative graphic novel based on the life and adventures of John James Audubon by Fabien Grolleau and J©r©mie Royer.

For those wanting a more in-depth biography of Audubon, Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America by William Souder details the more dramatic events behind Audubon’s most famous ornithological works.

Mindfulness: Bird-Inspired Movement with Growga

Follow along with our friends at Growga in this fun video to practice some bird-related yoga poses and awaken your observation skills to notice more birds around you. Suitable for ages five and up.

Family Activity: Great Backyard Bird-Making

We’ve partnered with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to offer a free virtual event on February 9, to celebrate Audubon’s artwork and the GBBC. Take inspiration from Audubon’s lifelong exploration of birds to create your own twittering critter from recycled materials. All ages welcome! Learn more and sign up here.

Nature Finds in the Museum Store

After bird watching in our Park or viewing our Audubon volumes in East Building, visit the Store in West Building to find just the right item to take home and continue your art and nature experience. Enjoy puzzles, stunning glass sculptures, and home items, all showcasing the beauty of these soaring creatures.

Please contact us at help@ncartmuseum.org with any requests and allow us to serve you in person or with “Plaza Pickup.”


Jan 29, 2021


10:00 AM
For More Information:
(919) 715-5923
Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm
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