Collection Spotlight

Cuvier’s Regulus, plate LV

Cuvier’s regulus, also known as Cuvier’s kinglet, is something of a feathery mystery. To this day, ornithologists have been unable to positively identify the bird represented on this plate.

The painting was reproduced from a single male specimen, observed and collected in 1812 by John James Audubon in Pennsylvania. In his first volume of Ornithological Biography published in 1832, he wrote that he initially thought he was observing a ruby-crested wren (today, the ruby-crowned kinglet). After further investigation, however, he concluded that it was a different bird altogether. Neither he nor his fellow naturalists ever saw another one after the original sighting. Audubon proposed naming it after Georges Cuvier, an influential French zoologist he admired.

The diminutive bird is described as having a short black bill, mostly dull greyish-olive feathers and wings edged in greenish-yellow, a black forehead with dark head stripes and a brilliant red band atop its head. 

Two types of kinglets live in North America: the golden-crowned kinglet and the ruby-crowned kinglet. Both species are accurately featured on other plates in Birds of America. Some experts now believe that the species depicted on this plate was misidentified. One explanation offered by the American Ornithological Society is that Cuvier’s regulus is possibly a golden-crowned kinglet with aberrant plumage, a type of colour mutation. 

Details

  • This is Plate LV (55). The caption reads: Cuvier’s Regulus, Regulus cuvierii. Male. Broad-leaved kalmia or laurel. Kalmia latifolia.
  • The plate measures 49 cm high by 30.8 cm wide. It is printed on paper that measures 96.3 cm high by 65 cm wide.
  • It was engraved, printed and coloured by Robert Havell in 1833.
  • The plate is part of set number 11.
  • Audubon painted this mystery bird on a mountain laurel branch in full spring bloom. Mountain laurel, a flowering shrub native to the eastern United States, is the state flower of Pennsylvania.  
Colour painting of small bird on a branch

Cuvier’s Regulus, plate LV

Colour painting of small bird on a branch, close-up

Close-up of Cuvier's regulus depicted on the plate