Audubon: A Unit Study

John James Audubon, born on April 26, 1875, had nothing to do with the Audubon Society.  He did not found it, it was not his idea, nor was he ever a member of it.  His only connection with the society was that his wife tutored one of the founding members, and that her pupil thought it would be a good idea to name it in Audubon’s honor since he was America’s foremost ornithologist, or studier of birds.

Birds of America

The work which gave Audubon this distinction was the four-volume Birds of America, published in 1827.  For 14 years Audubon and his hired team of hunters traveled from Labrador to Florida collecting specimens, discovering 25 species and several subspecies in the process.  The result was 435 life-size, hand-colored prints depicting 497 species of birds.

The Criticism

A few critics have called Audubon’s work unrealistic, due to the fact that he wired dead birds into their poses instead of working with live subjects, but most agree that the paintings are quite accurate.  Audubon went to great pains preparing and studying the specimens, sometimes devoting four fifteen-hour days to each one.  He painted each of the birds against a background resembling its typical environment.  Natural foliage, nests, eggs, juveniles, and sometimes even predators are depicted.  Both male and female are usually portrayed, and they are frequently shown in action — flying, hunting, and courting.

However, Audubon made full use of artistic license as well as scientific accuracy.  He sometimes changed slight details for a specific purpose, placing similar species in the same painting for comparison, altering the pose of a large bird to fit his life-size works, arranging subjects to give views of every side of the species, and taking a little bit of liberty with the composition for drama and artistic appeal.  Audubon primarily worked with watercolors, although he often used a touch of pastel to give softness to feathers.  The result was a collection of paintings appealing not only to lovers of birds, but lovers of art as well.

The American Woodsman

Audubon: A Unit Study

After a failed attempt to find a publisher for his work in America, Audubon traveled to England in 1826. The people there enjoyed a more leisurely lifestyle and a more romantic view of nature than the Americans did at that time, so after a few exhibitions Audubon’s work quickly became popular, and Audubon himself was hailed as “the American woodsman.” Although Audubon continued to paint and write, Birds of America proved to be his most lasting work, the standard by which bird artists are judged even to this day.

Further Investigation

John James Audubon
Biography from the Audubon Society

Birds of America by John James Audubon
The entire four-volume series with plates.  From the Audubon Society.

Birds of America
Plates in easy-viewing format.

Birdwatching Glossary
Handy tool from Homestead on the Range.


All About Birds
Wonderful tool from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology that lets you browse by name and shape or taxonomy.

Bird Identification Skills
From All About Birds (Cornell), this guide helps you identify birds.

Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus
Subtitled “Bird Watching from a Christian Perspective,” this blog is packed with information, photos, illustrations, and helpful resources.

Feeder Birds Coloring Book
50-page download at Cornell is more than a coloring book.  Includes helpful investigation questions for bird identification.

Identify Bird Beaks
A free page from a Learn-And-Do Bird Unit Study by Kym Wright.

Free Step-by-Step Drawing Lesson from ArtVenture
(You may want to install an ad blocker before viewing.)

Audubon Book Study {Free}

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies
A beautifully illustrated picture book biography of Audubon based partly on his own writings.

Audubon's Birds of America Coloring Book

Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by James J. Audubon
46 featured birds with exacting detail.

The Bird Study Book by T. Gilbert Pearson
A free, public domain title by a former secretary of the Audubon Societies written for the beginning student of ornithology.  Includes details of field observation, information on bird nesting habits, bird behavior, and how to keep a bird notebook with sample page.

How to Draw Birds by Raymond Sheppard
In the public domain, this free download not only shows you how to draw birds; the introductory information on bird anatomy, wings, feathers, flight, beaks, and feet is very helpful to the study of birds, whether or not you decide to draw them.

Peterson Field Guide to Birds

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson
The definitive field guide for beginning birders.

Bird Songs

Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky
This beautiful book has been a real hit in our home.  A photo page with a description of the bird is cross-indexed to its bird song.  Unfortunately, this book is increasingly difficult to find…and pricey.  Suggest used or the Kindle version.

The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: The A-to-Z Guide To Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects, And Treats by Sally Roth
Another favorite around here. Topics are arranged alphabetically, covering everything from accessories, accidents, and acorns to wrens and zinnias. Very helpful to those who would like to attract birds.

Burgess Bird Book {Free eBook & Activities}

The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess
“Its primary purpose is to interest the little child in, and to make him acquainted with, those feathered friends he is most likely to see. Because there is no method of approach to the child mind equal to the story, this method of conveying information has been adopted. So far as I am aware the book is unique in this respect. In its preparation an earnest effort has been made to present as far as possible the important facts regarding the appearance, habits and characteristics of our feathered neighbors. It is intended to be at once a story book and an authoritative handbook. While it is intended for little children, it is hoped that children of larger growth may find in it much of both interest and helpfulness.” The Burgess Bird Book for Children is available as a free download.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
Nest & Eggs ~ Intro & Free eBook

Free Bird Studies: Nests & Eggs ~ Complete Series
Our free bird study basted on the book Nest and Eggs covers 50 birds!

Free Nature Studies: Our Wonderful World

Free bird lessons from our Our Wonderful World nature book study:

The Birds Around Us
42-page unit study for grades K–2 at Muhlenberg College. Includes activities, printables, and recommended 2-hour field study.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Bird Notebooking Pages
Free 51-page download.

Bird Skeleton
Labeled diagram from Enchanted Learning.

The Bird Coloring Book
Very nice coloring pages with colored example page at Perfect for a bird notebook.

Bird Observation
Helpful bird observation sheet at the

Bird Facts
Freebie at includes space to record the name of the bird, information on its habitat, how to recognize the bird, the food it eats, and where it nests. There is a map with a symbol key for recording the bird’s range (year round, summer, and winter) and room for a picture/photo of the bird. One of the better bird notebooking pages we’ve come across.

Audubon Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

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