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Extraordinary Birds

This online exhibit is based on the book, Natural Histories: Extraordinary Birds, Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library, by Paul Sweet, Collections Manager of the Ornithology Department in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History. The second volume in the Natural Histories series, this volume highlights a selection of the magnificent art work contained in the Museum's renowned Rare Book Collection in the field of ornithology.

The wonderfully colorful plates featured in Extraordinary Birds are notable for their profound aesthetic beauty, and for the fine detail which highlights the significant role the art played in the history of ornithology, as well as the skill and time that went into producing each piece. This a perfect marriage between the Museum Library's distinguished Rare Book Collection and the Museum's Department of Ornithology, which maintains one of the largest and important collections of bird specimens in the world.


The colorful illustrations capture the birds with a view of their natural habitat, often complete with nests, tree branches, and flowers. In addition to studying the history of ornithology through this artwork, one can also examine print-making techniques, which are further discussed in Extraordinary Birds with three essays by the Museum Library’s Conservator, Barbara Rhodes. The artwork in the featured volumes, says Sweet “…are not only important historical documents, but also serve as the basis of bird taxonomy, or the discipline of naming and classifying birds."


This Digital Special Collections exhibit allows the viewer to browse images by choosing topics from the menu to the right, a compilation of themes created from Extraordinary Birds: Birds of the World, with examples from Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and Oceania, North America, and South America, and followed by Printing Technique with the artists' technique noted for several illustrations. Additional images in the print version of Extraordinary Birds include many avian species and the Library’s Rare Book Collection includes more topics in the study of Ornithology, maps, illustrations, book covers, and frontispieces, which can be found by searching these topics from the Rare Book Collection in the AMNH Library’s Digital Special Collections. To enlarge any image and to see the accompanying information, simply click on an image or its title. Information can be accessed about the rare book from the Library’s catalog records, and the exhibit images can be further explored by selecting authors, artists, titles, and subjects.


Extraordinary Birds, Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library published by Sterling Signature, is available at the American Museum of Natural History bookshop and wherever books are sold.


Stacy J. Schiff, AMNH Library Visual Resources Librarian, with assistance from Museum Library interns Beth Saffer and Andrew Ward