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Audubon paints the Great White Heron near Key
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."
image from Historical Museum of Southern
- Audubon images at the
Museum website were
produced from prints of an original Elephant Folio
belonging to the museum.
of what Audubon writes in his Ornithological
Biography, Volume. III, pages 542 to 550 appears
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
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.
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. "
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
. . 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
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."
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."
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
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.
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