COCK OF THE PLAINS [SAGE GROUSE].

London: Robert Havell, Jr., 1837. Handcolored engraving with aquatint and etching by Robert Havell, Jr., on J. Whatman paper with the "Turkey Mill" watermark. Sheet size 25 1/4 x 38 1/4 inches. From the first edition of THE BIRDS OF AMERICA, plate CCCLXXI (371). Very good condition. Item #WRCAM32963

One of Audubon's great images: the male sage grouse is pictured in the midst of its extraordinary mating "dance" whilst a female looks on quietly, apparently disinterested in the highly stylized posturings of her would-be mate. "Although the Cock of the Plains has long been known to exist within the limits of the United States, the rugged and desolate nature of the regions inhabited by it has hitherto limited our knowledge of it habits to the cursory observations made by a few intrepid travelers...Two of these travelers, my friends, Mr. [John Kirk] Townsend and Mr. [Thomas] Nuttall, have favoured me with the following particulars...[with some added]...notes of Mr.Douglas...This bird is only found on plains which produce the worm-wood (Artemesia), on which it feeds...It is very unsuspicious, and easily approached, rarely flies unless hard pressed, runs before you at the distance of a few feet, clucking like a common hen, often runs under the horses of travelers when disturbed, rises very clumsily, but when once started, flies with rapidity to a great distance" - Audubon. "This, the largest grouse of North America, was called the "pheasant-tailed grouse" or "cock of the plains" by Audubon, who in his travels on the upper Missouri did not quite reach the western country where it is found. The sage grouse is noted for its extraordinary dance...The dance in an arena amongst the open bush is a communal affair. A number of males, each one well-spaced, dance with their spiky tails spread and their yellow neck sacs inflated...Originally the sage grouse was found in fifteen of the western states, wherever sagebrush flourished...Overgrazing and drought in the 1930s nearly brought the sage grouse to the status of an endangered species...The survivors started to recover by the 1950s, and today the sage brush population has an estimated total population of 1,500,000 birds" - Peterson. The current name is the Sage Grouse, and the illustration depicts the female and male of the species. "Audubon never saw this western bird, but in his notes in ORNITHOLOGICAL BIOGRAPHY he quotes liberally from the observations of John Kirk Townsend. It seems reasonable to assume that the models for this painting were among the skins purchased by Audubon from Thomas Nuttall [the eminent naturalist] in Philadelphia in October, 1836. These skins had been collected by Townsend and Nuttall in the Far West, as members of the expedition that led to the opening of the Oregon Trail. Audubon made paintings from these skins in Charleston, 1836-37, and in England, from 1837 to early 1838" - Low. John James Audubon, BIRDS OF AMERICA (New York & Philadelphia, 1840-44), Vol. V, pp.106-7. R.T. & V.M. Peterson, AUDUBON'S Birds of America (London, 1981) 126. Susanne Low, GUIDE TO AUDUBON'S Birds of America, p.189.

Price: $18,000.00