Summary

Osprey, Pandion haliaetus (Accipitridae) with Vulgo Weak Fish. Plate 81 from Birds of America by John James Audubon, 1830. Original common and scientific names used by Audubon were Fish Hawk, Falco haliaetus.

John James Audubon worked along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, catching birds in the morning to paint before last light. He has depicted the osprey in the moment of victory, its prey secure in its piercing talons.

The fish hawk radiates a fierce vitality, but it was dead when illustrated. Audubon was both a hunter and a naturalist; he shot his subjects and strung them up in animated positions to be painted, using an ingenious system of wires. Many people at that time believed that nature's resources were limitless and that it was humanity's right to exploit their abundance for financial, artistic or scientific gain.

This image was published life-size in Audubon's magisterial The birds of America, where the scale and the subtle tones of aquatint etching emphasised both the perils and vigour of nature.

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Osprey with Vulgo Weak Fish

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