Biographer of the Feathered Tribes
The first engraving for American Ornithology of a goldfinch, blue jay and Baltimore oriole. THE STATE MUSEUM OF PENNSYLVANIA / PHOTO BY DON GILES

Alexander Wilson and American Ornithology

By Iren Light Snavely Jr.
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XLI, Number 1 - Winter 2015

"As it has fallen to my lot to be the biographer of the feathered tribes of the United States," Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) wrote to William Bartram (1739-1823) on August 4, 1809, "I am solicitous to do full justice to every species; and I would not conceal one good quality that any one of them possesses."

At the age of 43 Wilson - weaver, peddler, poet, teacher and expatriate Scotsman - had finally found his calling. Why in middle age did he undertake a daunting ornithological endeavor of sketching and describing all the "finest" American birds?

Wilson had ambled across Scotland in his twenties, hawking printed muslins, silk ribbons and handkerchiefs and penning verses of praise, love and scorn. But charges of libel forced his departure in 1794. On July 14 he arrived in New Castle, Delaware, along with his nephew William Duncan. Finding no work, they followed the King's High Road north to Philadelphia, where he soon found employment with an engraver. In Scotland Wilson had been destined to pass through "the humble vale of life without attracting the eye of public observation," but not in Philadelphia. Here the bright 28-year-old Wilson could mingle with people of every social station and be exposed to novel ideas and experiences.

In autumn 1795 Wilson accepted a teaching position at a school near Frankford. A year later he found a better opportunity at a school in nearby Milestown. Then in February 1802 he became schoolmaster at the Kingsessing School of Gray's Ferry, west of Philadelphia.

The years 1802 to 1806 were pivotal in Wilson's life because of his acquaintance with a neighbor, William Bartram, arguably the most famous naturalist in America. Wilson's relationship with Bartram literally changed his life. Biographer Thomas Crichton of Paisley wrote that Wilson was "a lover of the works of Nature. . . . But in the knowledge of her works, he had hitherto been a mere novice." Crichton recalled Wilson's enthusiasm "to be called to sit as a humble disciple at the feet" of Bartram, "qualified to teach his pupil, not only the theoretic, but practical principles of natural science."

Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) also nurtured Wilson's interest in natural history and his Romantic view of nature. Beginning in 1803 his interest in the subject, especially ornithology, intensified. Soon he was consulting Bartram about the identity of specific birds. Bartram invited him to use his personal library, which held major ornithological treatises by Mark Catesby and George Edwards. Through Bartram's influence, Wilson also gained access to the collections of the American Philosophical Society and the Library Company, each rich in ornithological lore. Suddenly, a new goal began coalescing in Wilson's mind. In a letter of June 1, 1803, he disclosed to Crichton that "I am now about to make a collection of all our finest birds."

A view of Second Street in Philadelphia, 1800. Library of Congress

In fall 1803 Wilson began to expand his circle of Philadelphia friends. Among them was Scottish engraver Alexander Lawson (1773-1846). Both Wilson and Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) were frequent visitors in Lawson's home while Lewis was studying botany with Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815) in preparation for his 1804 expedition. Later when Wilson needed an engraver for American Ornithology, he naturally turned to Lawson.

In autumn 1804 Wilson's nephew Duncan suggested they travel to Niagara Falls. The trip was probably inspired by Bartram's travels, but Wilson was also motivated by a desire to begin his collection of American birds. Accompanied by Wilson's student Isaac Leech, the travelers undertook their journey "too late in the season," forcing them to walk through knee-deep snow on the trip home. Despite its hardships, the arduous journey only whetted Wilson's appetite for further adventures.

Wilson returned from the trip feeling "confident in my own spirit and resolution." He brought back extensive notes and two specimens of birds unknown to him. The notes served as the basis of his 2,219-line poem entitled The Foresters, published in serial form in 1809 and 1810 in the Philadelphia Portfolio.

Wilson expressed such enthusiasm for his ornithological project that he could not be dissuaded from it. After revealing his plan to Lawson, he begged him not "to throw cold water . . . on this notion, Quixotic as it may appear." Bartram worried "that the difficulties . . . were almost too great to be overcome" by one with such limited means. He had good reason for concern. Biographer Robert Cantwell estimated the costs for 100 engravings alone at $5,000 to $8,000.

Wilson was undaunted but also knew he lacked the requisite skills and knowledge of a naturalist. He confessed to Bartram that he was "miserably deficient" in "Botany, Mineralogy, and Drawing." He had sufficient leisure time for study but wanted Bartram's advice about how best to proceed.

Bartram already had been encouraging Wilson's interests in natural history but now emerged as Wilson's "teacher, artistic adviser and mentor." Wilson's letters to Bartram, beginning in late 1803, are filled with sketches and questions about birds.

Wilson, nephew William Duncan and student Isaac Leech encounter a rattlesnake along the Susquehanna River during their 1804 journey to Niagara Falls. The print illustrated Wilson's poem The Foresters. THE STATE LIBRARY OF PENNSYLVANIA

Wilson learned quickly. By summer he was drawing woodpeckers, asking Bartam whether there were not "4 different species besides the Fliccer." Aside from the common redheaded, the speckled hairy and small speckled hairy ones, he knew of another speckled one with a crimson throat. He also mentioned he had discovered a new and "most extraordinary Blackheaded Woodpecker" that dwarfed the largest hawks.

Wilson's efforts began to bear fruit. He proudly told Bartram, "I have now got my collection of native birds considerably enlarged," but relied on Bartram "to mark on the drawings . . . the names of each bird, as, except for three or four, I do not know them." While Wilson often worked from stuffed specimens, he was learning from Bartram's example that "Nature is preferable, to copy after . . . though perhaps more difficult."

In March 1805 Wilson wrote Bartram that he was busy drawing two unknown birds he had shot on the shores of the Mohawk River during his Niagara Falls journey. With Bartram's approval he intended to send them to President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who had published a state bird list in his Notes on the State of Virginia.

Jefferson's list demonstrated not only a familiarity with North American birds, but also their Linnaean binomial classifications. Wilson's letter of March 18, 1805, to Jefferson reveals a growing confidence that allowed him to offer sketches and a scientific description of a jay.

Jefferson's prompt and gracious response to Wilson on April 7 identified one of the two birds Wilson sketched as a flycatcher based upon the shape of its bill. Wilson's jay, however, remained a mystery. Jefferson concluded only that it was not of European origin. He also asked for Wilson's help identifying a bird that he described in detail - about "the size and make of a Mockingbird," living in tall trees with a song sweet and clear as a nightingale. Wilson was overjoyed by Jefferson's letter. Biographers Edward H. Burtt Jr. and William E. Davis Jr. maintain that Wilson's correspondence with the president and subsequent letters to Duncan "signal a new dimension in his [Wilson's] ornithological development."

By July 1805 Wilson's collection of Pennsylvania bird drawings had grown to 28. He sent them for Bartram's inspection. His drawings were improving, though he hoped to do better with increasing confidence. He told Bartram he could not find several of the birds "either in your nomenclature, or among George Edwards' seven volumes." Wilson was still contemplating the species of Jefferson's mysterious bird, which he now thought must be a wood robin.

Portrait of Alexander Wilson (oil on wood, 23 1/4 x 22 inches), probably painted by Thomas Sully, 1809-13. AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, GIFT OF DR. NATHANIEL CHAPMAN, 1822 / PHOTO BY BRENT WAHL

By early 1806 Wilson "took his first tentative steps" toward publishing American Ornithology. Like Catesby and Edwards, he realized he must master the process of etching his drawings on copper plates "to keep the description and interpretation" of the birds entirely under his control. He cast aside his doubts, "assured that with a little instruction in the art of etching," he could "finish the figures . . . in a style, not inferior to his . . . drawings from nature." To accomplish this, he consulted his friend Lawson, "who cheerfully contributed his advice and assistance."

Bartram's 1804 article "Description of an American Species of Certhia, or Creeper" in Barton's Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal likely provided a model for Wilson's descriptions in American Ornithology. Bartram's article includes a six-word Latin description but not Linnaeus' binomial classification. A detailed physical profile followed, with a short account of the bird's behavior, ecology and song, plus an illustration painted by his niece Nancy. It was the only species article Bartram ever published, but Wilson's "species descriptions" follow its format.

In 1806 Wilson was appointed assistant editor of the American edition of Abraham Rees' Cyclopedia; Or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature by the Philadelphia publisher Bradford and Inskeep. Wilson resigned his teaching post on April 1 and began his editorial duties several weeks later. He announced his new position to Bartram in an April 22 letter, stating that he hoped this work would enable him "to proceed in my intended Ornithology, to which all my leisure moments will be devoted."

Wilson's job was to write or assign articles on all aspects of American life based on authoritative sources, work with contributors, select and revise articles, and bring a new edition to press. Samuel Bradford (1776-1837) admired Wilson's intelligence, integrity and "his frank, honorable manner." Bradford had originally interviewed Wilson to manage his bookstore but was so impressed by him that he offered Wilson the position of assistant editor. Bradford was even more enthused when Wilson interjected his ornithological project into the conversation.

After joining Bradford and Inskeep, Wilson hoped to gain the firm's financial backing for the publication of American Ornithology. When he proposed the idea to Bradford, he already had over 100 bird drawings and several engravings completed. The press was moving away from politics into literary and artistic productions, so Bradford was pleased to undertake such a beautiful work. The firm agreed to underwrite the costs of 200 copies of the first volume, provided Wilson could obtain 200 subscribers.

On April 6, 1807, 2,500 copies of a prospectus for American Ornithology were printed. It was Wilson's first public announcement of his project. Sent to "eminent persons" throughout the nation, the prospectus advertised a set of 10 volumes available only by subscription at a cost of $120. Wilson's enthusiasm was now matched by his intellectual growth evident in a letter of April 29, 1807, to Bartram encouraging him to "be a rigid censor," should he find him "deviating from the beauties of nature, or truth of description." But Wilson also discusses the critical problem of bird nomenclature and voices dissatisfaction "with the specific names . . . used by almost every writer." He asserts that a name ought to be "expressive" of some particular trait "in colour, confirmation, or habit." Consequently, a name that applies "equally" to two distinct species "is certainly an improper one." Wilson's new confident - indeed, audacious - tone began to color their discourse. It signaled his "progress from student of ornithology to ornithologist."

Four species of woodpeckers - yellow-bellied, red-headed, downy and hairy - are illustrated in this engraving from Volume 1. THE STATE LIBRARY OF PENNSYLVANIA / PHOTO BY DON GILES

In late September 1807 Wilson traveled to New York City to gather subscriptions for Cyclopedia and American Ornithology. He brought along copies of the prospectus and samples of the bird plates. An experienced peddler, Wilson had great success selling subscriptions to Cyclopedia, but found few buyers for American Ornithology. A major obstacle was cost. At $12 a volume many readers considered the work prohibitively expensive. When Wilson returned home, he was encouraged to find a letter from Jefferson asking to subscribe.

The following year Wilson worked on Volume 1 of American Ornithology. His approach was regional, targeting the eastern deciduous forest of the United States. Each bird account he wrote describes the anatomy, behavior, diet, environment and economic value of the species in a "light and clear, often poetic" style. Wilson was the first American ornithologist to employ the Linnaean system of classification consistently.

Although Wilson had learned engraving from Lawson, he concluded that Lawson's superior workmanship best qualified him to engrave the plates. Wilson thought his time was better spent "finishing drawings, and collecting facts for the descriptive part, which is the proper province of the Ornithologist." He recognized the critical role of the engraver, who preserved the "authenticity" of the illustrations by faithfully translating his drawings. Such precision demanded the close collaboration documented in the corners of each plate: "Drawn from Nature by A. Wilson" and "Engraved by A. Lawson."

Wilson prepared illustrations in several different ways. Sometimes he composed them precisely as they were conveyed to the copper plate. On other occasions he cut out a drawing and pasted it into a larger composition. After the layout was complete, iron oxide was brushed onto the back of each sketch, which was glued onto the copper plate. Next, the lines of the sketch were redrawn, imprinting the copper surface with the orange iron oxide. After removing the drawing, Lawson cut into the copper plate, following the orange lines. He then cleaned the plate to eliminate any shavings or dust before inking the plates for printing.

Wilson paid equal attention to coloring. After printing, every illustration in the plate was colored by hand. He added detailed notes for the colorists about plumage and tissues and carefully supervised their work. After the pigments were applied, feather-covered areas received layers of semitransparent paint to lend the appearance of a velvety texture. Wilson initially recruited friends, former students and neighbors as colorists, including Bartram and his niece Nancy, but as Volume 1 neared completion, he began hiring professionals at 25 cents a page. One particularly skilled colorist was Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859), an apprentice in Bradford's bookstore, who later studied in England under Benjamin West (1738-1820). Leslie's sister Eliza and Peale's daughter Anna also helped.

The work on the plates was often tiresome and frustrating. The engraving and coloring of the first plate, depicting a goldfinch, blue jay and Baltimore oriole, was completed by Wilson himself under Lawson's supervision. The second plate portraying a robin, wood thrush and black-capped nuthatch proved more difficult. Wilson wished to provide a specimen of a nuthatch, one of the most common birds in Pennsylvania, for his colorists, yet found none in a whole day of searching. At this point, however, Meriwether Lewis arrived in Philadelphia to begin work on a book about his western expedition to be published by Bradford and Inskeep. Lewis hired Fredrick Pursh (1774-1820) to prepare the botanical drawings, but he gave the bird specimens to Wilson to "make drawings of such . . . as had been preserved and were new." Wilson found Lewis's confidence tremendously heartening in this critical period.

The title page of a first edition copy of American Ornithology, Volume 1. THE STATE LIBRARY OF PENNSYLVANIA / PHOTO BY DON GILES

In September 1808 Bradford published 250 copies of Volume 1. Wilson now needed to find at least 200 subscribers to fulfill his part of the bargain. He announced his itinerary to Bartram "a few minutes" before departing for a trip through New Jersey, New York and New England "in search of birds and subscribers." Despite his initial enthusiasm, by October 10, frustration and doubt besieged him. Puzzled, he wrote to his friend Crichton, "[A]mong the many thousands who have examined my book . . . I have heard nothing but expressions of the highest admiration and esteem." Still, he made few sales. He wondered whether he had published "a work too good for the country." Nevertheless, he resolved "not to sit down with folded hands."

On the journey Wilson made some valuable contacts but sold only 41 subscriptions. After returning in late November, he headed to Washington in mid-December to present a copy of Volume 1 to Jefferson. Afterward, he traveled through Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and the Spanish territory of Florida, as Bartram had 30 years earlier.

Wilson's journey through the southeastern states in winter 1808-09 also helped him establish a network of contacts. Stephen Elliot (1771-1830), an amateur botanist from Beaufort, South Carolina, was "profoundly interested" in Wilson's work and invited him to make his Ogeechee River plantation a base of operations. Not far from Elliot's plantation lived London-born naturalist John Abbot (1751-circa1840), whom Wilson encountered in the backwoods of Georgia. Abbot was a longtime painter of American birds and insects for British clients. Both men served as knowledgeable guides to many southern bird species new to Wilson. Afterward, Abbot became a correspondent and reliable source of future specimens. Wilson's southeastern trip also ensured the financial success of American Ornithology, bringing an additional 250 subscriptions.

Fueled by a mixture of success and determination, Wilson entered the most productive phase of activity on the project. He created a new department at Bradford and Inskeep for American Ornithology and personally contracted with the engravers, colorists and printing specialists. In spring and summer 1809 Wilson completed 50 illustrations and 42 accounts of species, some never described before.

Volume 2 was released on January 21, 1810. Wilson took several copies on his six-month westward journey from Philadelphia to New Orleans, by far his longest trip. He traveled through Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, then down the Ohio River by rowboat. Disembarking at Louisville, Kentucky, he searched unsuccessfully for subscribers among the city's merchants. He wandered into the general store of John James Audubon (1785-1851) the following day, carrying the first two volumes. Audubon thought about subscribing but reconsidered when his partner protested the superiority of Audubon's own drawings. Wilson never mentioned the encounter, except to note his disappointment that his stay yielded not a single subscriber, nor a new bird.

Wilson continued his journey, traversing Kentucky on foot. After selling 15 subscriptions in Lexington, he bought a horse and continued on to Tennessee. He stayed eight days in Nashville, drafting an 11-page sketch of his Kentucky adventures for the Portfolio. He also painted a number of new birds and made notes on them. These he forwarded to Lawson with a letter. Unfortunately, only the letter arrived in Philadelphia. The notes and paintings were lost.

A belted kingfisher surrounded by a black and yellow (magnolia) warbler, Blackburnian warbler, autumnal warbler and Louisiana waterthrush from American Ornithology, Volume 3. THE STATE LIBRARY OF PENNSYLVANIA / PHOTO BY DON GILES

After leaving Nashville, Wilson traveled through the wilderness on the Natchez Trace. On May 17 he reached Natchez, Mississippi, 187 miles from New Orleans. There he enjoyed the hospitality of William Dunbar (1750-1810), a planter and noted scientist. Having read Volume 1, Dunbar invited Wilson, a fellow Scot and naturalist, to make his forest plantation a "headquarters" for observing the local bird species. Although 61 years old and in failing health, Dunbar not only informed Wilson about the region's many native bird species but also introduced him to friends interested in natural history. As a result, Wilson sold 23 more subscriptions in Natchez alone. Dunbar dispatched Wilson to his friend Dr. Samuel Brown, who introduced him to other Mississippi planters. In this way Wilson moved from plantation to plantation, gathering ornithological information and subscriptions. By the time he reached New Orleans, Wilson's reception became a triumphal entry. News of his fame preceded him and many prominent residents subscribed. Wandering through the French Quarter, he seemed to find a subscriber in nearly every house.

After booking his passage home and tallying his accounts, Wilson found that he had spent $455 on his 3,000-mile journey. His second and third trips suggest that his ornithological endeavors enjoyed their greatest support - financial and intellectual - in the American South. When he arrived home in Philadelphia, he learned to his dismay that his notes and drawings from Nashville had been lost. With characteristic determination he sequestered himself in his office and worked relentlessly for a month to replace the missing materials. He assured Bartram on September 2, "I am closely engaged on my third volume."

On February 12, 1811, Wilson finished the preface to Volume 3. He kept up this pace through the spring. As a result of his western trip, Wilson's subscriptions totaled 450 - more than twice the number needed to fulfill his commitment to Bradford. To meet the demand, Bradford made two additional press runs of Volume 1 and another run of Volume 2. The increased number of subscriptions provided Wilson with a small cash reserve.

Encouraged by the financial success of the work, Wilson resigned as editor of Cyclopedia in summer 1811 to devote himself wholly to American Ornithology. His dedication was infectious. Lawson, convinced that his own reputation was tied up with the project's success, completed work on plates for Volume 4, published on September 12, 1811.

In 1811 Wilson met George Ord (1781-1866), an "elegant, fashionable and sophisticated" heir to a ship chandlery business and a founding member of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. Ord was a classicist who considered the study of natural history a source of "calm retirement from the cares and sorrows of life." Initially Ord was more concerned about Wilson than ornithology, because he considered him a threat to "the calm academic detachment . . . the study of natural history should be." He was even more curious about Wilson's belief that he could "catalogue" the birds of the air - a goal that suggested a "boundless egotism." Although skeptical, Ord wished to discover exactly what Wilson knew about birds.

Wilson had contacted Ord first as a potential correspondent who might help him identify the coastal birds of southern New Jersey. Over the next three years, beginning with a November 1810 trip to the Great Egg Harbor, Ord hunted and collaborated with Wilson to fill volumes 6 through 8 with images of native species, ranging from rails and herons to snipes.

A spread from American Ornithology, Volume 3, showing a Louisiana tanager, Clark's crow and Lewis' woodpecker. THE STATE LIBRARY OF PENNSYLVANIA / PHOTO BY DON GILES

Through 1812 Wilson's project suffered a disastrous reversal from an increasing overhead not covered by paid subscriptions. Subscribers paid an annual fee at years' end after receiving each finished volume. Volumes 5 and 6, however, went to press while Volume 7 was in preparation that year. As a result the costs of publication exceeded the monies already received from subscribers. Bradford declined further advances, and Wilson refused to proceed until he had been paid for the work already done. This impasse threatened the project's future. Under the circumstances, Wilson was forced to "make one last and very long and expensive journey to collect what is due."

In August and September 1812 Wilson traveled through New York and New England. The United States had declared war on Great Britain in June, and Wilson was arrested in Haverhill, New Hampshire, as a Canadian spy. He was freed only after convincing the judge of his business and scientific pursuits. He moved north to Portland, Maine, before returning to Boston, but the stress of travel and the months of intense labor began to take their toll. He wrote Ord, "I have . . . been several times afflicted with a violent palpitation of the heart." He hoped that a "short voyage by sea" to New York might prove "beneficial."

Despite the trip, Wilson's situation improved little. Soon after his return to Philadelphia, his colorists all abandoned him, leaving him alone to hand-color 4,050 plates for Volume 7. His savings exhausted, Wilson was forced to live on the wages of a colorist - 25 cents per plate. Undaunted, he forged ahead, completing the preface to Volume 7 on March 1, 1813. In a letter of April 21 he reported to Bartram that "I am now engaged with ducks," which "will be comprehended in the eighth volume." His only complaint was that he desired once again "to breathe . . . the fresh of the country, and gaze on the lovely face of Nature." This was his last letter to Bartram.

In May Ord and Wilson traveled to Cape May for four weeks, where they collected specimens and notes for Volume 8. After returning to Philadelphia, Wilson spent most of his time drafting the text and preparing the drawings. He made one more trip to Cape May that summer. According to Ord he caught a cold that led to dysentery while fording a stream in pursuit of a bird. Wilson reported to Crichton in his last surviving letter on July 6 that Volume 8 was at press and expected in November. "One volume more will complete the whole," he declared with some satisfaction. He hoped to complete the work the following April.

Wilson never lived to see the final volumes of American Ornithology published. Although he listed the species covered in the contents of Volume 9 on August 13, his now faithful friend Ord finished the work, writing the descriptions to accompany Wilson's last four drawings.

In the five years from 1807 to 1813 Wilson spent a total of 19 months traversing the United States, collecting specimens and subscriptions. He logged over 10,000 miles, visiting 15 states and 4 territories. Wilson classified and described 255 species in the first eight volumes of the work and Ord compiled 13 additional accounts in Volume 9 based on Wilson's notes and sketches, for a total of 268 species. Wilson's descriptions covered 77 percent of the species known to exist in the region.

Considering the miles Wilson trekked and the many hours he spent pursuing, drawing, describing and painting American birds - the sheer determination that drove him to the point of exhaustion - what motivated the man to compile this great work? He anticipated this question while writing the introduction to Volume 1. The practical answer he gave was a mixture of "amusement blended with instruction, the correction of numerous errors . . . introduced into this part of the natural history of our country," as well as a desire to stir his countrymen "to a contemplation of the grandeur, harmony, and wonderful variety of Nature, exhibited in this beautiful portion of the animal creation." Among the other "incitements" he revealed was one far simpler. He had been, he confessed, "Biased, almost from infancy, by a fondness for birds."

Ruffed grouse from American Ornithology, Volume 6. THE STATE LIBRARY OF PENNSYLVANIA / PHOTO BY DON GILES


For More Information

The most recent biography of Alexander Wilson is Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology by Edward H. Burtt Jr. and William E. Davis Jr. (Belknap Press, 2013). This comprehensive book covers Wilson's life, ornithological illustrations and scientific contributions. Robert Cantwell's Alexander Wilson: Naturalist and Pioneer (J.B. Lippincott, 1961) is an entertaining biography, rich in bibliographical references.

The Life and Letters of Alexander Wilson, edited by Clark Hunter (American Philosophical Society, 1983), presents the most extensive collection of Wilson's correspondence in a single volume.

Original copies of the nine volumes of Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology; Or, the Natural History of the Birds of the United States (Bradford and Inskeep, 1808-14) are held in the Rare Collections of the State Library of Pennsylvania.


Iren Light Snavely Jr., a resident of Red Lion, York County, is librarian of the Rare Collections Library of the State Library of Pennsylvania. A graduate of Geneva College, he received a master's degree from Temple University and a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. He was formerly project archivist at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and has contributed several articles to journals and books.


This article underscores the exhibition A Fondness for Birds: Pennsylvania's Alexander Wilson, featuring bird specimens, portfolio prints and first edition volumes of the 200-year-old American Ornithology, at The State Museum of Pennsylvania through March 15, 2015.