Kenn Kaufman releases new book, “The Birds That Audubon Missed”

May 7, 2024 | Ottawa Outdoors | 0 comments

Kenn Kaufman recently released his newest book, “The Birds That Audubon Missed.” (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

“The Birds That Audubon Missed” shares Kenn Kaufman’s journey into the world of early bird identification. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

World-respected bird expert, artist and author Kenn Kaufman has released his latest book on birding, “The Birds That Audubon Missed.” The book chronicles his interest in the work, and the curiously missing work, of John James Audubon.

Kaufman, who has been birding since he was a boy, is the author or coauthor of 13 books, including the Kaufman Field Guides. He is a longtime editor and consultant for the National Audubon Society and is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society. He is married to Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Together, their impact on the birding world is incalculable.

Throughout his decades of bird research, Kaufman was surprised to discover that many birds common to even a casual birder were missed by Audubon, who was among many early 19th century naturalists who sought to identify and document bird species. Audubon recorded his findings through painted portraits.

“The book is about what was going on with the discovery of bird species in the early 1800s,” Kaufman said. “What got me interested in this was thinking about the really common migratory birds that Audubon didn’t paint.”

Among them is the Swainson’s Thrush, which passes through Ottawa County and most of the U.S. each spring and fall. The bird also evaded the eye of Audubon’s predecessor, Alexander Wilson.

“I realized he hadn’t painted the really familiar Swainson’s Thrush,” Kaufman said. “Wilson missed it, and it was not discovered until sometime in the 1840s.”

Confusion with similarly-adorned birds may have caused the men to misidentify the Swainson’s.

This page from “The Birds That Audubon Missed” shows Kenn Kaufman’s paintings of Swainson’s Thrushes, painted in the artistic style of John James Audubon. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

“Of all the bird species overlooked by Audubon, Alexander Wilson, and their contemporaries, the Swainson’s Thrush is the most surprising. It’s a common migrant throughout eastern North America,” Kaufman wrote in his book. “The early naturalists undoubtedly saw it, but long-lasting confusion over the small brown thrushes kept them from realizing that is was something different and unnamed.”

Recognizing the holes in Audubon’s research caused Kaufman to consider more deeply the challenges and methods of early bird identification.

“It was totally random,” he said. “They didn’t have binoculars. They didn’t have cameras. They shot them. Audubon’s paintings are detailed because the specimen was right in front of him.”

“The Birds That Audubon Missed” is illustrated with Kaufman’s own drawings and paintings. Some of the work is created in Kaufman’s unique artistic style that intertwines realism, beauty, creative expression and an uncanny ability to capture the bird’s individual personality. Most of the illustrations, however, are Kaufman’s recreations of Audubon’s style, in which he attempted to portray the birds’ physical details while showing them in their natural habitat.

In essence, Kaufman picked up where Audubon left off, creating a bridge between 19th century and modern bird identification and art. Kaufman could be called a modern Audubon with a twist. While Audubon connected the world to new bird species, Kaufman connects new people to the world of birding. His books and professional expertise have impacted not only the scholarly community, but he has also inspired countless hobby birders in their own backyards.

“The Birds that Audubon Missed” is available at the Magee Marsh Gift Shop, at major bookstores and online.

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