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Birds captured more than 150 years ago are coming to life at Colby.

A rare 1860 edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America is on public display at Colby College through the summer of 2016. The Bien Edition of the iconic work was published between 1858 and 1860. This large-format edition features life-size portraits of 150 species painted to scale and in naturalistic poses by the renowned artist and naturalist.

Herb Wilson, who teaches ornithology as the Leslie Brainerd Arey Professor of Biosciences at Colby, said the Audubon works and others on loan to Colby’s Special Collections are notable for the rarity of these publications, the magnificent beauty of the paintings, and their seminal importance in the history of American ornithology.

“Reprints of Audubon’s paintings pale in comparison to the originals,” said Wilson, whose students are using the rare edition for research projects. “The birds in the original prints pop off the pages in all their beauty and splendor.”

After Audubon’s death in 1851, his son, John Woodhouse Audubon, commenced planning for a large-format printing using the new process of chromolithography pioneered by Julius Bien of New York. The project included 105 of the original 435 plates.

This copy of the Audubon work is part of a loan to Colby from the Dorros family of Wilson, Wyo. The loan also includes a smaller-format Audubon edition as well as contemporary works by Scottish-born Alexander Wilson, considered the father of American ornithology, and Englishman Mark Catesby.

The works are in the care of Colby Special Collections. They are available for viewing by the public. Turnings of the pages of the large-format edition can be scheduled by appointment.

For more information contact Special Collections at 207-859-5150, or by email at