Adventures in Home Binding

Category : art, birds, book

I HAVE FINISHED PRINTING MY NEW BOOK. Folks, I can’t believe it.

2015-02-24 18.09.18

I have set and distributed and set and distributed more times than I can count, but here’s the last run:



2015-02-27 15.14.10


Which means only one thing: time to start binding. Here’s some signatures pressing, in the improvised studio otherwise known as a shelf in my extra room:


2015-03-06 08.29.25I’m sure it will work just fine. Once everything is folded and collated, it will be time for some spine lining. I plan on using a cast iron pan as a weight. Wish me luck!


Setting and resetting

Category : birds, book

red biled rail

Bird update: I’m mostly setting the text for each bird at this point. If all goes well I should have almost all, if not all, of the individual bird pages printed by the end of the year. (Fingers crossed). Which means all that would be left after that is the intermediate stuff (this is what happened in Hawaii, etc.) and the beginning/introductory stuff (this is why people made field guides, etc.).

Whew. In the meantime, I’ll be setting and resetting pages and pages of type. I’m pretty quick at it at this point.

If you’d like to see some of the pages so far, let me direct you to my etsy shop right here, where you can browse the finest of extinct bird prints available.

Hope you’re all having a fantastic December so far. My cohort Jasper here is glad to have me working from home today.


First bird printed.

Category : birds, book
First bird printed.

This weekend I worked some more on the first print of the first bird for my new book.     …

Run one.

Category : art, birds, book
Run one.

I would understand if you thought that this here extinct birds field guide project was all talk. When is she actually…

The Turtle

Category : book

Here’s what I made for the open studios a few weeks ago on Governors Island, in case you were wondering….

Passenger Pigeon

Category : birds, book

Probably the best-known extinct American bird is the Passenger Pigeon:

Alexander Wilson’s passenger pigeon

Estimates of the total number of passenger pigeons at the turn of the nineteenth century are around 3 billion, 25 to 40% of all the breeding birds in America.

Pigeon migration was a spectacle, as described by John James Audubon:

I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had, undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… Before sunset I reached Louisville, distance from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers, and continued to do so for three days in succession.

Falling Bough by Walton Ford (via Art21)

Audubon mentioned them many times in his writings. Here is a description of a portion of one flock returning to their nests:

“The Pigeons, arriving by thousands alighted everywhere, one above another, until solid masses as large as hogheads were formed on the branches all round. Here and there the perches gave way under the weight with a rush, and falling to the ground, destroyed hundreds of the birds beneath, forcing down the dense groups with which every stick was loaded. It was a scene of uproar and confusion.”

The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.

Audubon’s pigeon

Their habitat was reduced by new settlements in the West, but the tipping point came as a result of hunting. Pigeon meat became a popular source of cheap food for the poor and for slaves in the south, leading to large-scale commercial hunting. In Louisville,  Audubon wrote that “multitudes were thus destroyed. For a week or more, the population fed on no other flesh than that of pigeons, and talked of nothing but pigeons.” Even the air smelled of them. At the time, Passenger Pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, giving hunters the impression that the supply of pigeons would never run out. In 1805, a pair of pigeons sold for two cents in New York City. Boxcars full of the birds were shipped back east.

Catesby’s pigeon

The passenger pigeon was a very social bird; it lived in huge colonies stretching over hundreds of square miles, and practiced communal breeding with up to a hundred nests in a single tree. This kind of bird relies on sheer numbers to ensure its survival. There was safety in large flocks; the number of predators was so small compared to the total number of birds, little damage could be inflicted on the flock as a whole. But once their number were reduced beyond a certain point, a slow reduction in numbers quickly transitioned to a catastrophic decline, which is what happened to the bird between 1870 and 1890. As the flocks dwindled, the number of pigeons decreased below the threshold necessary to continue the species. Conservationists who tried to halt the hunting of the passenger pigeon at this point were too late; beyond  a certain point, the pigeon had no hope of coming back. Smaller groups of pigeons could not breed successfully, and the surviving numbers proved too few to re-establish the species.

On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Her body was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was skinned, dissected, photographed and mounted. A memorial statue of Martha stands on the grounds of the Zoo.

The Carolina Parakeet

Category : birds, book

The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis).

from the Birds of America, John James Audubon (1785 – 1851) Hand-coloured engraving, 1827 – 1830

Length: 30cm (12in)
Adult: forehead, lores, area around eyes and upper cheeks orange; remainder of head, throat and upper part of neck yellow; outer webs of primaries marked yellow towards their base; bend of wing, carpal edge and thighs yellow; rest of plumage green, paler on underparts; bill horn-coloroured; legs and feet pinkish brown

The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot species native to the eastern United States. It was found from southern New York and Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, and lived in old forests along rivers.

Supposedly, flocks of Carolina Parakeets had such strong bonds that when some of their members were killed the remainder of the flock returned to their bodies repeatedly until all were shot. A flock would therefore inspect a feeding site carefully before landing.

Song: Loud quarrelsome screams given in flight

Behavior: Social and gregarious. Occurring in flocks except in breeding season when pairs nested in dense colonies. Mated for life. Roosted communally in hollow trees. Fed in bottomland forests, riverbanks, and cypress swamps on tree and grass seeds, thistle, fruits and berries.

Alexander Wilson’s rendering

Carolina Parakeets were probably poisonous—John James Audubon noted that cats apparently died from eating them, and they are known to have eaten the toxic seeds of cockleburs. As forests were cleared to make room for farmland, farmers would shoot them as they considered them pests. Flocks were plentiful in the 18th and 19th centuries. Audubon described a flock attacking grain in the fields: Flocks of these birds …cover them so entirely, that they present to the eye the same effect as if a brilliantly covered carpet had been thrown over them.

Mark Catesby’s parakeet

Parakeets were hunted for its feathers, particularly as decoration for ladies hats; the pet trade; for sport and as pests. No one knows when the last wild parakeet died; the last two parakeets in captivity lived together in the Cincinnati Zoo for thirty-two years. Lady Jane passed away in 1917 and her companion Incas passed in 1918, ironically in the same cage that the last known Passenger Pigeon, Martha, had passed away in four years earlier.

Rumors of their continued existence circulated for long afterwards. Bird enthusiasts claimed to have seen isolated examples deep in the Carolina swamps, most of which is also gone now, up until the 1930’s.

Of Alexander Wilson

Category : book

Alexander Wilson started off as a Scottish weaver, then as a poet, then itinerant peddler. His poetry tended towards the political, which got him thrown into prison for libel. Once released, he emigrated to America for a fresh start as a schoolteacher, first in New Jersey then Pennsylvania. It was only after he got to Pennsylvania that he got interested in birds.

The naturalist William Bartram was his neighbor and encouraged the penniless, self-educated immigrant to start collecting and studying birds. Wilson began teaching himself everything he could about birds, and how to illustrate them.

In 1802 he began traveling around looking for birds to paint, and collecting subscriptions for his planned illustrated ornithological study of all the birds of North America. He ended up with 268, 26 of them completely new, in his nine-volume American Ornithology.  One of the people he tried to solicit for a subscription was Audubon himself, who was still in Kentucky in 1810, minding his soon-to-be-bankrupt mercantile business. Wilson’s book is often cited as one of the inspirations of Audubon’s Birds of America.

Of Mark Catesby

Category : book, inspiration

Birds books didn’t start with John James Audubon, and they didn’t end there either. Before Audubon, there was Mark Catesby, who in 1722 was sent by the Royal Society to the Carolinas on a plant-collecting expedition.

Over the next four years Catesby traveled around Eastern North America and the West Indies, collecting samples of plant and animal life. After returning to England, he spent seventeen years working on his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands: drawing samples and etching plates himself for the publication, the first to use large. folio-sized color plates in a natural history book.

He learned to do the engraving and hand-coloring of the plates himself to keep the cost of producing it down, bookmaking being as foolish a financial investment then as it it today. He painted more birds than anything else, placing them in the middle of the page with some element of their habitat. It is the first true ornithological text dealing with American birds, and sparked a wave of interest in the topic.

AND you can read his masterwork here, online, because the internet is amazing, when it’s not terrible:

Biodiversity Heritage Library