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John James Audubon
Boat-tailed Grackle, from the Bien edition of Birds of America

1860

$5,900

About

Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus Major, (Male: 1 and Female: 2). Chromolithograph of the Boat-tailed Grackle by John James Audubon published in 1860 by New York printer and publisher Julius Bien. Seven years after their father’s death, Audubon’s sons began an American edition of The Birds of America with Bien, a key figure in the introduction of chromolithography to America. Bien transferred the copper plate original images from the Audubon-Havell edition of 1838 onto lithographic printing stones. As many as nine printing stages, with additional hand-drawn lithography and coloring, were used to render the subtleties of the original engravings in their double-elephant dimensions. The Bien edition was one of the early applications of chromolithography and remains one of its finest examples. The new technique promised to achieve effects entirely different from engraving. It was not perceived as an imitation of engraving, but as a major advancement in print-making technology. Transferring the Audubon images rather than reprinting from the existing engraving plates was necessary because the latter had been used to print 200 sets and had begun to wear. By transferring the images to lithographic stones, Julius Bien working with John Woodhouse Audubon rendered details in the original copper plates that would have quickly diminished in quality had they been used again for a second edition of the The Birds of America. The Bien Edition, which were to be sold by subscription, was begun in 1858. But production was brought to a halt by the advent of the Civil War and only 150 plates were completed. The Boat-tailed Grackle was first described by French naturalist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1819. They are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that are typically held folded in a V-shape. While males are glossy black all over, females are dark brown above and russet below, with a subtle face pattern made up of a pale eyebrow, dark cheek, and pale “mustache” stripe. Eye color ranges from dull brown along the western Gulf Coast to bright yellow along the Atlantic Coast. Boat-tailed Grackles are supreme omnivores, feeding on everything from seeds and human food scraps to crustaceans scavenged from the shoreline. They birds forage on the ground, in shallow water, or in shrubs; they will steal food from other birds. They enjoy insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds, grain, and even small birds. Boat-tailed grackles have established significant populations in several United States Gulf Coast cities and towns, where they can be found foraging in trash bins, dumpsters, and parking lots. Although a strictly coastal species through most of their range they also thrive throughout the Florida peninsula, often well away from the immediate coast.

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