Edward Lear (1812-88) is famous for his nonsense verse, limericks, amusing stories and songs such as the Owl and the Pussy-cat, but he was also one of the most talented illustrators of birds in the first half of the 19th Century. His father lost his fortune through speculating and the young Edward was brought up by his eldest sister. He had to work from the age of 15 preparing posters, leaflets and advertisements for businesses and was largely self-taught. At the age of eighteen he began the 42 illustrations for the Illustrations of the family of the Psittacidae or Parrots, which was completed in 1832. From 1832 to 1837 Lear worked at Knowsley near Liverpool for Lord Stanley, who became the 13th Earl of Derby in 1834, and was President of the Zoological Society of London. After 1837 Lear spent most of the rest of his life - some 50 years - in the warmer climate of southern Europe and died aged 75 in 1888 in San Remo in Italy.
He worked as illustrator for many of the book publishers at the time, most particularly John Gould, with whom he worked on The Birds of Europe, published 1832-7, the Monograph of the Ramphistidae, or Family of Toucans, published 1834 and 1835, and finally the Monograph of the Trogonidae, or Family of Trogons, published in 1838. He is believed to be the first to draw from living specimens wherever possible and also to produce his own lithographs
In all his work Lear showed a keen insight into the nature of the bird he was illustrating and usually succeeded in capturing its personality. This applies especially to his illustration of what he thought was an Hyacinthine Macaw. The posture of the macaw is typical of the Anodorhynchusmacaws. It also has the " sleepy eye ", which the website editor believed typical for the species from personal observations and photographs.
However, all the macaws I saw until recently were fairly old birds - the surviving Lear's Macaw at Bourton-on-the-Water, which Harry Sissen, a British breeder in Yorkshire, acquired some ten years ago (1991?) was supposed to be more than 40 years old. The pair on loan to Harry from Mulhouse Zoo, France until they were stolen two years ago (1999) were at least 25 years in captivity. He had a male on loan some eight years ago (1993?) from a South African breeder, which we saw briefly once soon after he acquired it and was alleged to be some fifteen years old. Nelson Kawall's female, now (2001) in Sao Paulo Zoo, was also quite old.
It was only very recently when I saw a young macaw in Sao Paulo Zoo, which had been repatriated from Paris after being smuggled out of Brazil by a Singaporean citizen, and observed some macaws in the wild that I realised the "sleepy eye" characteristic is probably due to advanced age, dietary deficiency or both.
Saturday 13th April 2019
I have been made aware of an organisation - Jardins da Arara de lear - set up in Brazil to solve the problem of the lack of licuri plams, which used to provide much of the natural diet of Lear's Macaws in the wild. As regular visitors to the ... Read More »
" Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret "
( If you drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will soon find a way back)
Horace (65-8 BC)