Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus Vociferus)

John James Audubon (1785-1851), Le Wip-poor-will de Mr. Buffon (or Whip-poor-will), 1806. Pencil and crayons on paper. Signed and dated in pencil, l.l.: ‘Mill Grove, Pensylvania [sic] // the 21 of July, 1806 // J.J.A.’ GC154 John James Audubon Collection. Gift of John S. Williams, Class of 1924.

On April 12, 1806, John James Audubon (1785-1851) sailed back to the United States under a false passport to take responsibility for the family estate at Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. The 248 acres of farmland and woods had significant mining deposits and Audubon’s responsibilities included the lead mines.

A friend in Nantes had introduced Audubon to pastels and the twenty-one year old preferred to spend his time roaming the hills along the Perkiomen Creek and the Schuylkill River hunting and sketching. This drawing was completed just three months after his arrival.

When Audubon married a few years later and moved to Kentucky, this early drawing went with him to serve as a model for his famous Birds of America, plate 42: Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus Vociferus, Wills.).