John James Audubon was born in what is now Haiti on April 26, 1785, but was taken to France at an early age, where he studied geography, music, fencing, and drawing. Coming to the United States in 1803, he lived the life of a country gentleman, soon developing a keen interest in American birds. In 1807, he opened a general store in Louisville, Kentucky. The following year, however, he married and became increasingly neglectful of business, spending much of his time exploring the woods and making drawings of birds. In 1820, after his last business venture ended in bankruptcy, he decided to devote himself to his ornithological and zoological interests.
Six years later, he found an engraver in London to publish his Birds of America (1827-38), containing more than 1000 figures of about 500 species. Audubon's fine work was immediately recognized: in 1827 he was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh; and upon returning to the United States in 1831, he was acclaimed as one of the greatest American naturalists.
After making several trips to Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, hereturned to Edinburgh in 1834 to continue writing Ornithological Biography (5 vols., 1831-38), the text to accompany the illustrations of his previous work, Birds of America. In 1839, he settled in the United States permanently, beginning work on Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, which was later completed by his sons and his collaborator, John Bachman. Audubon died in New York City on January 27, 1851