London: R. Havell, 1834. Handcolored engraving with aquatint and etching by R. Havell. Watermarked: "J. Whatman/1834." Sheet size: 25 3/8 x 38 1/2 inches. Item #WRCAM37286
From the first edition of THE BIRDS OF AMERICA. One of Audubon's greatest images: against a background of western prairie land, a small incident of the greatest importance to its participants takes place in the immediate foreground. Two cock Pinnated Grouse (or Great Prairie Chickens) fight for the attention of a lone female. Audubon captures the moment when, after long preliminaries of booming cries, bluster and circling, one of the males, driven beyond endurance, launches a physical attack on his rival. The female looks on with fascination. A carefully balanced composition -- the bulk of the left hand bird is offset by the fragile beauty of the martagon lily on the right. "It has been my good fortune to study the habits of this species of Grouse, at a period when, in the district in which I resided, few other birds of any kind were more abundant. I allude to the lower parts of the States of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri...As soon as the snows have melted away...the Grouse, which had congregated during the winter in great flocks, separate into parties of from twenty to fifty or more...Inspired by love, the male birds, before the glimpse of day lightens the horizon, fly swiftly and singly...to meet, to challenge, and to fight the various rivals led by the same impulse to the arena...Imagine them assembled...see them all strutting in the presence of each other, mark their consequential gestures, their looks of disdain, and their angry pride, as they pass each other. Their tails are spread out and inclined forwards, to meet the expanded feathers of their neck, which...lie supported by the globular orange-coloured receptacles of air, from which their singular booming sounds proceed...the fire of their eyes evinces the pugnacious workings of their mind, their notes fill the air around, and at the very first answer from some coy female, the heated blood of the feathered warriors swell every vein, and presently the battle rages...The weaker begin to give way, and one after another seek refuge in the neighbouring bushes...The vanquished and the victors then search for the females, who, believing each to have returned from the field in triumph, receive them with joy" - Audubon. At the time Audubon was writing, the Greater Prairie Chicken had already all but vanished from the eastern states. It was "still abundant on the main western prairies, but this too was to change, mainly because the bird could not adapt to modern agricultural practices. When the native prairie vegetation was eliminated they soon disappeared. Today the remaining populations, much restricted, are carefully managed. An organization in Wisconsin...is dedicated to purchasing, preserving, and managing remaining prairie chicken habitat" - Peterson. John James Audubon, THE BIRDS OF AMERICA (New York & Philadelphia, 1840-44), Vol. V, pp.95-96. Susanne M. Low, A GUIDE TO AUDUBON'S Birds of America (New Haven & New York, 2002), p.117. R.T. & V.M. Peterson, AUDUBON'S Birds of America (London: 1981), 124.