Ottawa·Photos

The Birds of America digitized by Library of Parliament

The Library of Parliament has digitized its copy of Birds of America by John James Audubon. The masterwork was created with the intention of representing every species of bird in North America, depicting more than 1,000 individual birds and more than 450 species.

At 1-metre high, the volumes are 'by far the largest items in the library's collection'

Louisiana Heron or Tricoloured Heron, by John James Audubon (Library of Parliament/Flickr)

In the 1820s, John James Audubon set out to illustrate every single species of bird in North America, ultimately creating large prints depicting more than 1,000 individual birds and more than 450 species.

The Library of Parliament digitized its copy of The Birds of America, which are "by far the largest items in the library's collection," said Sonia Bebbington, the library's director of knowledge management and preservation

So far, six images are available on the library's Flickr account — with more to come.

Roseate Spoonbill, by John James Audubon (Library of Parliament/Flickr)

Bebbington said the collection is a set of 435 paintings that were etched onto copper plates, impressed onto paper and then water-coloured by hand. Each is about one metre high and 70 centimetres wide, some "close to life-sized" depictions, she said.

​"They're really quite an impressive size," she  told Giacomo Panico on CBC Radio's In Town And Out on Saturday. "The large birds are often in feeding position, they're often sort of folded over on the page and there's a real sense of movement and life."

Listen to the full interview here.

Audubon originally sent the images in sets of five to subscribers in a tube. The Library of Parliament bound its copy of the collection in 17 volumes, which Bebbington said are in "fantastic" condition.

"The colours are still very much alive," she said.

1. Hairy Woodpecker 2. Lewis' Woodpecker 3. Northern Flicker 4. Red-bellied Woodpecker 5. Red-breasted Sapsucker by John James Audubon. (Library of Parliament/Flickr)