200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 23: “Philadelphia: The Birthplace of American Ornithology ”

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portraits of J. J. Audubon and Alexander Wilson
John James Audubon (left) and Alexander Wilson: Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives Coll. 457

Philadelphia: The Birthplace of American Ornithology

Scotland native Alexander Wilson (1766–1813), the father of American ornithology, arrived in New Castle, Delaware, in 1794 to seek a better life. Eight years later, he met American naturalist and member William Bartram, who encouraged Wilson to begin observing and painting birds. Between 1808 and 1814, Wilson's great nine-volume work, American Ornithology, was published.

John James Audubon (1785–1851) was born in Haiti and at the age of 18 was sent to America in part to escape conscription into the Emperor Napoleon I's army. He had a great interest in birds, nature, and drawing, and he turned his passions into a deep study and collection of birds. Audubon is best known for his work The Birds of America.

While these men helped secure Philadelphia as the birthplace of American ornithology, they share yet another link as contributing members of the Academy of Natural Sciences! Want to see a piece of history yourself? Visit the Academy's Library on weekdays at 3:15 pm to watch a page turning of Audubon's The Birds of America.

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