Scientists Work with NYC Artists to Create Murals Depicting Threatened Species
When you think about endangered species, birds probably aren’t the first animals that come to mind. Majestic tigers, powerful gorillas and adorable giant pandas tend to grab a lot more headlines for their diminishing numbers than birds with strange names like the greater sage-grouse or the Florida scrub jay. The National Audubon Society has worked since 1886 to focus more attention on the dangers to various North American birds, but very few Americans could actually tell you the name of a single endangered bird.
Decades later, the Audubon Society has taken a new, bold step in New York City to emphasize the threat to North American birds in a way the public can’t miss and is sure to remember. Working with NYC artists, the organization commissioned the creation of murals to draw attention to endangered birds using a larger-than-life format. Called the Audubon Mural Project, the artwork is already spreading throughout Harlem neighborhoods. Let’s take a look!
Making a Big Statement
Scientists working with the Audubon Society estimated in 2014 that nearly half of the bird species in North America were threatened with extinction due to climate change and man-made hazards, such as pollution, waste and wildfires. An updated report created in 2019 increased that number to about two-thirds of North American bird species at risk of extinction, but they also believe greater conservation efforts can reduce that degree of risk.
Establishing an Audubon Connection on a Giant Scale
The former home of John James Audubon, the famous ornithologist and namesake of the Audubon Society, was a two-story frame house on an estate named Minnie’s Land that was once located near the Hudson River on what is now 156th Street in New York City. At the time, the neighborhood was a semi-rural outer suburb. The house was demolished in 1931, but the community hasn’t forgotten the famous artist and birder who lived there. Audubon is buried in the Trinity Cemetery on 155th and Broadway in West Harlem, and the dramatic mural from the initiative Swallow-Tailed Kite (and Others) is located across from his grave.
Basking in the Limelight
In early 2020, the Audubon Mural Project is still a work in progress, but more than 115 birds have been featured in murals in New York City so far. (You can track the overall progress on the project’s website.) Birds in the New York City paintings range from the tiny Allen’s hummingbird to the bald eagle and include some well-known species as well as those that only devoted birdwatchers would recognize. Many of the murals depict multiple species in a single painting — realistic or not — while others focus on a single bird and its vibrant colors.
Engaging in Some Big City Birdwatching
If you’re interested in taking in all the murals in Harlem, you’re in luck. There are three basic ways you can view the murals and learn more about the species that have been painted. When the New York City Audubon Society is open, it offers Sunday morning tours through the neighborhood and takes visitors to more than 30 installations as well as the final resting place of John James Audubon. You have to register online in advance for these tours.