John James Audubon (1785–1851), the ornithologist and artist, traveled widely through the great American wilderness searching for bird specimens to draw for what became The Birds of America (1827–38). He observed them closely in their natural environment, keeping detailed field notes and journals under difficult conditions. Out of curiosity and hunger, he often cooked and ate these birds after drawing them and wrote down how they tasted—another kind of evidence. The article concentrates on his written descriptions (lively, humorous, wry, or astonished) and tasting notes in the wild.
Audubon traveled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, north to Labrador, south to the Florida Keys, and later, when searching for mammals to draw for The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, northwest up the Missouri River. There he wrote about hunting American buffalo (bison), sometimes comparing customs and rituals of white hunters and various Indian tribes, and even sampled dog served by a Blackfoot princess.
During the western expansion of the early nineteenth century, Audubon witnessed and recorded profound changes in the American landscape. Settlers’ encroachment on habitat and hunters’ wanton destruction of wildlife increasingly alarmed him. He presaged the extinction of some species whose habits and tastes he described. Conservation is an implicit theme.