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image for Audubon paints the Great White Heron in the Florida Keys and Key West

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AUDUBON


INDIAN KEY
1832


CORMORANT


ROSEATE
TERN


GRAY
KINGBIRD


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SANDY KEY


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THE AUDUBON HOUSE IN
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AUDUBON'S
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KEY WEST AFTER
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ROSEATE
SPOONBILL


GREAT
WHITE
HERON


GREAT
BLUE
HERON


KEY WEST
DOVE


FLAMINGOS


BLUE-
HEADED
QUAIL DOVE


FRIGATE BIRD


BROWN
PELICAN


MANGROVE
CUCKOO


TORTUGAS


SOOTY
TERN


BLACK
HEADED GULL


BROWN
NODDY


CAYENNE
TERN


BROWN
BOOBY


SANDWICH
TERN


NIGHT
HERON


GREENSHANK


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MARBLED
GODWIT


MANGO
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John Audubon paints the Great White Heron near Key West

map of the Florida Keys and Key West

Great White Heron

Observed at Indian Key on April 24 and later during trip to Key West. Sometime after May 4 Audubon painted the Great White Heron near the city of Key West, after a hunting excursion with James Egan. The background of the picture shows Key West.


" . . . we found the bird at which I had shot lying with extended wings in the agonies of death. It was from this specimen that the drawing was made."
Audubon painting of Great White Heron from Birds of America
Above image from Historical Museum of Southern Florida - Audubon images at the Historical Museum website were produced from prints of an original Elephant Folio belonging to the museum. http://www.historical-museum.org/collect/audubon/audubon.htm) See Audubon House  

 

Portions of what Audubon writes in his Ornithological Biography, Volume. III, pages 542 to 550 appears below:

 

"On the 24th of April 1832, I landed on Indian Key in Florida, and immediately after I formed an acquaintance with M. Egan, of whom I had already several times spoken. He was the first to give me notice of the species which forms the subject of this article, and which I cannot find any description. The next day after that arrival, when I was prevented from accompanying him by my anxiety to finish a drawing, he came with two birds alive, . . . These birds were left under the charge of Mr. Egan, until I returned from my various excursions to the different islands along the coast. "

"On the 26th of the same month, Mr. Thurston took me and my companions in his beautiful barge to some keys on which the Florida cormorants were breeding in great numbers. . . . we observed a young Heron of the species stalking among the mangroves that bordered the key on which we were, and immediately pursued it. . . . At length, however we caught it . . . and the poor thing was conveyed to Indian Key, and placed along with its kinfolk.

. . .

"While sailing along the numerous islands that occur between Indian Key and Key West, I saw many birds of this species, some in pairs, some single and some in flocks; but on no occasion did I succeed in getting within shot of one. "

Upon arrival in Key West, Dr. Strobel give Audubon assurances that he would obtain the specimens he needed to make he sketches. Audubon writes that he does indeed during that week procure more than a dozen birds of different ages. On one of these quests he writes after getting up at "eight bells" and rowing and dragging their boats over several miles of soapy shallows ,

" . .. but at last we found ourselves in a deep channel beneath the hanging mangroves of a large key, where we had observed the Herons returning to roost the previous evening. There we lay quietly until daybreak. But the mosquitoes and sandflies ! reader, if you have not been in such a place, you cannot easily conceive the torments we endured for a whole hour, when it was absolutely necessary for us to remain perfectly motionless.

" . . . I soon had the pleasure of observing all the herons take to wing. . . . Obtaining a good chance as I thought, I fired at a remarkably large bird, and distinctively heard the shot strike it. The heron merely croaked and pursued its course. . . . we now started for the next key, where we expected to see more. When we had advanced several hundred yards along a low bank, we found the bird at which I had shot lying with extended wings in the agonies of death. It was from this specimen that the drawing was made. I was satisfied with the fruits of this day's excursion. On other occasions I procured fifteen more birds,and judging that a sufficient number, I left the Herons to their occupations."

 " Mr. Egan kept for about a year one of these birds, which ... was allowed to ramble along the shores of Indian Key in quest of food. . . . The bird was known to all the resident inhabitants, but was at last shot by some Indian hunter, who had gone there to dispose of a collection of sea shells."

Among the varied and contradictory descriptions of herons . . . that herons are always thin, and unfit for food. this however, is by no means generally the case in America, and I thought these birds very good eating when not too old."

 

Audubon is credited with being the first to identify the Great White Heron as a separate species and gave it the name, "Ardea occidentilis". The Great White Heron has recently been designated a morph or color form of the Great Blue Heron.

 

 

 Additional information about the great white heron may be found by following the link below to the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas. The Atlas, a collaborative effort of Audubon of Florida, the Florida Ornithological Society, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission provides information of general status, habitat, and status of  breeding species in Florida.

 

http://wildflorida.org/bba/GWHE.htm

 

 

 


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