This morning, the blog of the Smithsonian Institution’s libraries posted a birthday greeting to Mark Catesby. Catesby was an English naturalist who wrote and illustrated The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: Containing the Figures of Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, Insects, and Plants. Quoting from Christopher Leahy’s The Birdwatcher’s Companion (1983 edition), Catesby’s book was, “…the first comprehensive, illustrated (engraved by Catesby himself and hand-colored), accurate (given the pre-Linnaean state of early-eighteenth-century biology) work on the natural history of North America.” Before there was Audubon, there was Catesby, though he didn’t confine his observations to birds; according to Leahy, his main field was botany.
Catesby was born on March 24, 1682/3 in Castle Hedingham, Essex, England; the uncertainty about his birthdate in part comes from the difference between the Old Style and New Style calendars, and in part from the difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars (the Smithsonian blog post has much more about this, which is no surprise to any genealogist who has researched people in this era). The post also shows Catesby plates of “the Great Booby” and the Blue Jay (albeit with a somewhat rumpled crest).