Birds of New York

watercolor painting of two pileated woodpeckers.

The exhibit Birds of New York and the Paintings of Louis Agassiz Fuertes was on display at the New York State Museum from January 30 - September 6, 2010.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Birds of New York, the exhibit featured many of the original watercolor paintings that Fuertes created for the book.

Birds of New York was published as part of the New York State Museum's Memoirs series. There are two volumes:

  • Water Birds and Game Birds, published in 1910, and
  • Land Birds, published in 1914

Birds of New York was commissioned in 1904 by John Mason Clark, the director of the New York State Museum at the time. It had been 60 years since the Museum's last publication about New York birds (James De Kay's Zoology of New York, which, in addition to birds, covered mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mollusks and crustaceans), and Clark wanted to create a new work that would reflect more recent research and observation, but also be accessible citizens who were interested in birds.

The Collaborators

Clark asked a Rochester biology teacher, Elon Howard Eaton (1866-1934) to write Birds of New York. Eaton was a lifelong student of natural history, and his 1901 paper on birds of Western New York had recently received statewide attention. From 1908 until his death, in 1934, Eaton taught at Hobart College, where he established the Department of Biology.

For Birds of New York, Eaton compiled extensive original research, including distribution maps, migration surveys and detailed observations of birds' nests, eggs, songs and behaviors.

Eaton enlisted Ithaca artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) to paint images for the book. Known for depicting birds in life-like poses and natural settings, Fuertes would study birds in their natural habitat before painting them; he also collected thousands of specimans for reference. Considered one of the foremost science artists of his day, Fuertes created illustrations for over 60 books and hundreds of magazine articles. He also lectured in ornithology at Cornell University.

The Legacy

The collaboration between Eaton and Fuertes produced a two-volume work that, at the time, was widely acclaimed for its combination of scientific scholarship and beautiful artwork; 100 years later, is still of value to ornithologists.

Birds of New York is also credited with strengthening New Yorkers' interest in studying and protecting birds, and spurring the formation of local birding clubs and bird sanctuaries throughout the state.

Birds of New York is one of the many NYS Museum publications that the New York State Library has digitized and made available online.

Last Updated: August 8, 2012