ISSUE 48  |  The Rural Life

Required Reading: America’s Other Audubon

November 30, 2012 8:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Seventeen years ago, a librarian at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History came across a curiosity: two mysterious, century-old volumes of beautifully drawn and colored illustrations of the nests and eggs of birds native to Ohio.

Librarian Joy Kiser learned that the author, a young woman named Genevieve Jones, had died suddenly of typhoid fever before completing the project, prompting her family to labor for years to finish it. The Jones family hand colored the illustrations and published, in Genevieve’s honor, nearly a hundred copies of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio. Today only 26 intact copies still exist.

In America’s Other Audubon, Kiser tells the story of the Jones family, self-taught ornithologists who searched for birds’ nests with the aid of their cocker spaniel Archos and who, over the course of nearly a decade, produced a remarkable work of scientific importance:

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”1877″,”attributes”:{“alt”:”America’s Other Audubon”,”class”:”media-image”,”height”:”820″,”width”:”700″}}]]

Above: America’s Other Audubon, illustrated with Jones family photos and reproductions of the 68 original color plates of nests and eggs, is $29.02 from Amazon.

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”1879″,”attributes”:{“alt”:”America’s Other Audubon”,”class”:”media-image”,”height”:”824″,”width”:”700″}}]]

Above: The nest of a Baltimore oriole, found in the branches of an elm tree, was constructed of bits of string, flax, and horsehair.

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”1881″,”attributes”:{“alt”:”America’s Other Audubon”,”class”:”media-image”,”height”:”743″,”width”:”700″}}]]

Above: The nest of a red-winged blackbird, found in a swamp, was woven of dried grass and leaves, and lined with grass and black horsehair.

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”1883″,”attributes”:{“alt”:”America’s Other Audubon”,”class”:”media-image”,”height”:”735″,”width”:”694″}}]]

Above: To research the book, Kiser contacted descendants of the Jones family, who provided photographs, reminiscences, and documents. A great grandson transcribed the original “Key to the Eggs” for Kiser.

For more ornithologically oriented holiday gifts, see “Gift Guide: For the Aspiring Ornithologist.