The Birds of America

This first purchase for the library shows birds life sized and in their native habitats.

U-M's first book

John James Audubon's The Birds of America — as much artwork as scientific work — is on permanent display in the Hatcher Gallery Exhibit Room, where a page is turned regularly.

The work was published as a series between 1827 and 1838, and contains 435 life-size images of North American birds reproduced from hand-engraved plates and hand painted with watercolors.

Our eight‐volume, double‐elephant folio edition of The Birds of America was the first purchase for the library by the regents of the university. The regents paid $970 for the set, which was an extraordinary expenditure in 1838, and a significant act of faith for a university that had yet to offer a single class or construct its first building.

Read more about Birds in the Library.

Making The Birds of America

While Audubon’s name appears alone on the title page, a multitude of people contributed their physical, mental, and creative exertion into these volumes. 

Although rarely recorded by name, several Indigenous and enslaved Black people assisted in collecting specimens and providing information on local bird species. Experts estimate that about a third of the paintings were completed by others.

Labels in the Hatcher Gallery Exhibit Room provide deeper context around Audubon, the making of the book, and U-M’s first purchase. Learn more about our reckoning with Audubon’s legacy.  

Related information

John J. Audubon’s Birds of America from the National Audubon Society allows free high-resolution downloads.

John James Audubon’s Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds includes all images from U-M Library’s Viviparous Quadrupeds and a small selection from The Birds of America.

Revisioning “The Birds of America” at the University of Michigan Library (PDF)