200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 113: “Imperial Connections? ”

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Bonaparte's Gull squawking on a beach
Bonaparte’s Gull (Larus philadelphia) by G. McElroy, © G. McElroy/VIREO

Imperial Connections?

It is a common misconception that a North American bird named Bonaparte’s Gull (Larus philadelphia) was named for Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844), infamous elder brother to the Emperor Napoleon and a longtime Philadelphia resident after the fall of the French Republic. This bird was in fact named for the Emperor’s nephew, Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803–1857), a highly regarded ornithologist in his time and one of the earliest members of the Academy, being elected to membership in 1824. Deeply interested in the systematics of birds, Bonaparte is credited with introducing the word “nomenclature” to ornithology. He devoted a great deal of time to a four-volume continuation of Academy member Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology (1808–1814), precursor to John James Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827–1838).

An additional little-known fact about the Emperor Napoleon’s nephew is that he was a close friend of Audubon when Audubon was still relatively unknown in the field of ornithology. He introduced Audubon to the Academy in the spring of 1824. While Bonaparte campaigned vigorously in support of Audubon being elected to Academy membership, it would be another seven years—well after Bonaparte had returned to Europe—before his friend was finally accepted. 

Check out the Academy’s VIREO website for more stunning images of the Bonaparte’s Gull!

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