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Walking with Birds: The Art of Audubon and MacGillivray

Later Lives

Audubon's Great Blue Heron

"Great Blue Heron", Birds of America, John James Audubon Plate 211


Following the publication of Birds of America and Ornithological Biography, Audubon returned to America in 1839 and later issued a smaller, more affordable version which became a best-seller.

Birds of America made Audubon's fame and fortune. During his lifetime, he was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Linnaean Society, and the Royal Society of London in recognition of his contributions to science. In total he identified 25 new species and 12 new subspecies of bird.

After his death in 1851, the lasting popularity of Birds of America inspired attempts to preserve the birds that Audubon described. Several conservation societies were founded in Audubon's name, one of which became the hugely influential Audubon Society of America.

Zoology Museum Photo by George Washington Wilson

Zoology Museum in Marischal College, by George Washington Wilson


After collaborating with Audubon on the Ornithological Biography, MacGillivray moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen in 1841 to take up the post of Regius Professor of Natural History at Marischal College: the first academic zoologist in Aberdeen.

MacGillivray was extremely popular as a teacher. He encouraged his students and colleagues to go out and study nature directly, and it has been said that he 'invented the student field trip'. He used the curatorial expertise he had gained working in Edinburgh to found the University's Zoology Museum.

A talented artist, MacGillivray dreamed of publishing a sequence of illustrations to his History of British Birds that would equal Audubon's Birds of America. However, he could not secure funding for this ambitious project, and his artworks exist today only as watercolour originals. He died in 1852 shortly after finishing the manuscript of History of British Birds.


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