Treasures of the Library

Roseate Spoonbill, plate CCCXXI

This watercolour, painted in 1836, depicts an adult male roseate spoonbill, a great bird indigenous to the southeast coast of the United States. This exotic bird is distinguished by its flat, spoon-shaped bill beak, its long neck and its long legs. The species has a white neck and back and pinkish wings. Its plumage varies from bright to pale over the various parts of its body. Adult roseate spoonbills measure some 80 centimetres in height and up to 120 centimetres across with wings extended.

To provide a life-sized portrayal of the bird within space constraints, John James Audubon depicts it feeding, with its head bowed. The sketched background reveals waterways with reeds growing on their shores, the roseate spoonbill’s natural habitat. Hills can also be seen on the horizon.

Details

  • The plate measures 97.8 cm high by 65 cm wide.
  • This is Plate CCCXXI (or 321). It states the scientific or Latin name of the roseate spoonbill: Platalea ajaja.
  • The image was copied as an engraving to a metal plate, likely of copper, then printed and coloured in London by Robert Havell.
  • The plate is part of Series 65.
  • While usually fairly quiet, the roseate spoonbill is also known for its low, guttural call, which it makes when feeding or if it feels threatened.
Roseate Spoonbill, Plate CCCXXI
Roseate Spoonbill, plate CCCXXI