Respected woodsman and naturalist John James Audubon traveled for years studying and tracking every known and unknown bird species all over North America, including Henderson, Kentucky. As you can imagine, such an ambitious journey might come with some a few unforeseen setbacks, or as the internet likes to call it… epic fails! If you enjoy a good story complemented by memes and a belly full of laughs, keep reading to see some of the hardships Audubon endured for his passion of capturing the birds of America.
- Attack of the American Avocets
Audubon was actually traveling on horseback from Henderson to Vincennes when he caught sight a several American Avocets, a bird typically not seen inland. He was both tired and hungry, but this bird had piqued his interest! He spotted four near a pond, and decided to abandon his horse to get a closer look, only to be attacked by the four birds! He advanced through what he thought was only a couple inches of water, and ended up knee deep in mud. The birds kept making all sorts of racket while dive bombing in the air directly at Audubon. He persisted and eventually found the birds’ nests! #WorthIt
- The Chimney Swift Stink
Audubon met a man in Louisville, Kentucky that reported a behemoth sycamore tree at least 60 feet tall and about seven wide, that was home to massive flock of Chimney Swifts, a type of swallow. Audubon had observed groups of the birds entering the hollow tree like bees to a hive, though he predicted there were many more to return to the roost than what he had witnessed. He returned the next morning and pressed his ear against the hollow tree to see if the birds were home. After about 20 minutes of nothing but silence, he heard what he thought was the sound of the tree falling on him! Instantly he jumped back to escape being crushed, when to his surprise the loud noise was the thousands of swallow pouring out of the tree in streams! Audubon later hired a man to cut a hole in the tree’s base, so that he might return and observe exactly how many birds resided inside. Audubon only found a small number of birds inside, along with about 25 feet of rotten bird feathers and poop. (No we did not steal this story from a Shout stain remover commercial).
- Little Sandpiper Massacre
During the time Audubon was living in Henderson, he decided to raise a brood of Little Sandpipers. Large flocks of this species lived on the banks of the Ohio River during the autumn months, but Audubon wanted to study their behaviors and habits closer to home. He gently collected healthy and plump specimens to release into his homestead garden. Apparently, the large brown rats that infested Audubon’s home also thought the birds looked plump and healthy. Having already clipped the wings of the sandpipers, the rats rapidly destroyed all of the birds… If only Audubon had taken a hint from Westley on how to fight R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusually Large Size).
- Audubon’s Memory Goes Cuckoo
While finding the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Audubon was invited by James Smith Rhett to observe the nest of this bird on his property. Audubon’s interest was in the number of eggs the Yellow-billed Cuckoo drops in one season, and he was not there long enough to find this information himself. Mr. Rhett sent him a letter about it because he had seen how many they laid the previous season. Mr. Rhett wrote back and responded to all of Audubon’s questions. Except, Audubon had misplaced the letter and lost all of Mr. Rhett’s recordings… The classic Did you get my text? scenario.
- Old Crow Menace Show
The Purple Grakle, also known as the common crow, was one of Audubon’s favorite birds. He felt strongly that they were always underestimated! On this particular day, Audubon was delighted watching a family of crows. He even comments to his readers, “I wish, good-natured reader, you would seek out such a sight: it would gladden your heart, for the rearing of such a family is worthy of your contemplation.” While the birds were smart scavengers, he noticed they were feasting on corn almost just as much as the farmers were themselves! His writing takes on a somber tone as he laments the relentless chasing and slaughter of the species by most farmers. He goes on to express his anger towards the farmers’ mistreatment of the birds, saying “The Grakles have scarcely a single moment of quiet; they are chased, stolen upon, and killed in great numbers.” … Apparently scarecrows had not yet been invented.
- Purple Martin Blues
Audubon built large bird houses and mounted them to trees for the reception of Purple Martins for several years. One year, he built a series of smaller boxes to invite blue birds to build nests in them for viewing. Instead, the Purple Martins returned and decided to downsize their roomy mansions to a studio loft apartment (not a very sensible space for raising a family if you ask us). To punish the martin, Audubon captured the bird twice and clipped both its tail, then the tips of its wings. When it returned to the small bird house for a third time, Audubon seized the bird, and in true mafia style, “disposed of him in such a way that he never returned to the neighborhood.” ? #FlyHighPurpleMartin
- Owl Save You!
Ever been walking and not watching where you were going? While chasing the Great Horned Owl, Audubon barely escaped with his life. It was one of those days where Audubon was out to collect an owl specimen, and he meant business. He pursued and approached an owl he has shot at with his rifle, but while he was running towards the spot where it was last seen, he suddenly found himself sunk in quicksand up to his arm-pits and unable to move. He had to remain perfectly quiet because any movement whatsoever would cause him to sink. Thankfully, his boatmen used their oars and some nearby driftwood as a bridge to reach and retrieve him from the pit of certain death… *shakes fist angrily at sky* “Owl get you for this!”
- Blue Jay Doomsday Cruise
In the winter of 1830, Audubon purchased 25
cardinalsBlue Jays from Louisville with the intention of shipping them in a large crate overseas. While on their overseas cruise, the blue jays wined and dined in their quarters, enjoying each other’s company, drinking lots and eating plenty of fruits, nuts and beef, which they were very fond of. They made it all the way to Liverpool, but a few days after their arrival, the birds were quickly infested by insects that covered their body. The disease spread so rapidly that some blue jays died every day after their arrival. Only one of the birds made it to London. Desperate to remedy the remaining ill bird, Audubon submerged the jay in a tobacco infused mixture, which killed it within a few hours… sounds about right.
- Bush Walk Gone Bad
Did you ever see a gloomy forest and think, Nope. Not going in there…? While in Pennsylvania, Audubon was prepared to protect himself against venomous reptiles that he expected to encounter in the Great Pine Forest. Audubon was intent on avoiding the thick briars and brush until he heard the sweetest song from a Winter Wren. He channeled his inner Indiana Jones and pressed on fearlessly in order to find the bird. The bird rambled here and there and everywhere, through the thickest brush and beyond. Completely exhausted and fatigued, Audubon saw the wren not far off in an open clearing, he had finally found the mischievous little fellow! Suddenly, another wren approached and perched beside it, and the bird that Audubon had faced his fear of venomous reptiles for, had disappeared! Disappointed, he reached the tree where the feathered fiend had landed, heard a soft peck, peck, peck… he had found the nest of the Winter Wren!… To bad he didn’t know, yellow-spotted lizards don’t like onion juice.
- Holy Barnacle, Batman!
The Hutchins’s Barnacle Goose sent Audubon on a literal goose chase. Audubon tracked the species on terribly long and wearisome journeys for… wait for it… 15 months! The only thing that carried him through this was knowing that he was “contributing to the advancement of our knowledge.” ?The More You Know? It’s here that we’ll mention the Hutchins’ Barnacle Goose was also known as the Cackling Goose… how appropriate it is that a goose that evades the clutches of his pursuer for 15 months is also cackling *in evil genius fashion*… You’ll Never Catch Me, Batman!
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