Behind The Scenes

For Red-Tailed Hawks, Skyscrapers Are Just Cliffs

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Havell plate no. 51

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Havell plate no. 51, 1821, John James Audubon, Watercolor, pastel, black ink, graphite, and black chalk with touches of gouache and selective glazing on paper, laid on card, Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863.17.51

As we’ve mentioned before, John James Audubon often depicted the dark side of nature through birds of prey. His watercolor of two Red-Tailed Hawks shows two of the birds fighting over a fresh kill, a common sight in bird territory. However, many people assume that a bird’s habitat is a secluded forest or cliffside. Not so in New York City!

One readers tells us he spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk on his apartment building, saying, “For them, tall buildings are just cliffs, and there are plenty of squirrels and small birds to prey on. I see them all over town while riding my bike.” What birds do you see in your neighborhood?

For those of you who want to see birds as Audubon saw them, Audubon’s Aviary: Part 1 opens March 8, 2013. The first of a three-part series, the exhibition will open with a fascinating look at the self-taught Audubon’s development of his innovative signature depictions and experimental media. Together, the three parts will feature all 474 stunning avian watercolors by Audubon in the collection, alongside engaging state-of-the-art media installations that will provide a deeper understanding of the connection between art and nature.

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