The history of ornithology (the scientific study of birds) has involved observations captured in imagery going as far back as prehistoric stone-age drawings.[1] As ornithology developed as a natural science it faced the aesthetic challenge of convincingly capturing depictions of different bird species,[2] leading to beautifully documented and historically fascinating works of illustration.

Several shared collections on JSTOR — available freely to anyone — showcase ornithological illustration starting as early as the 16th century and on through to the 19th century. Here are three of our favorites:

Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology Gallery of Bird and Wildlife Art has more than 1,000 works of art from the last two centuries by bird artists such as Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, and Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

Trinity College’s Enders Ornithology Lantern Slides comprises nearly 800 hand-tinted glass plate photographs of birds, produced by Herbert Keightley Job from 1896 to 1925. Job (1864-1933) was an early promoter of bird conservation, and he strove to convince others to consider outdoor photography as a substitute to hunting.[3] The accomplished Job was a lecturer, author, ornithologist, and pioneer wildlife photographer who held positions at the Connecticut Agricultural College, served as Connecticut State Ornithologist, South Carolina State Director of Nature Conservation, director of the National Audubon Societies’ Summer School and Ornithological Experimental Station, and National Audubon Societies South Carolina Field Agent.

Cornell University’s Hill Ornithology Collection traces the development of ornithological illustration in the 18th and 19th centuries and highlights the changing techniques from metal and wood engraving to chromolithography during that period. This collection provides a virtual tour of an online exhibit depicting the history of ornithological illustration, with links to more detailed information, other images, and bird sounds.

– Karyn Anonia, JSTOR Forum Senior Implementation Manager

1 Wikipedia contributors. (2019, July 18). Ornithology. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:26, July 18, 2019, from

2 Roylance, D. (1977). Art and Ornithology: A Note on the Exhibitions. The Yale University Library Gazette, 52(1), 30-32. Retrieved from

3 Wikipedia contributors. (2018, December 3). Herbert K. Job. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:28, July 18, 2019, from

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