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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

Mark Catesby (1682-1749)

The Goat-Sucker of Carolina c.1722-6

RCIN 924821

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For 18th-century naturalist Mark Catesby, birds were painted not for symbolic or decorative reasons, but in order to record and classify different species for the natural history books he published. To aid identification, Catesby deliberately drew his subjects in a clear style which he described as ‘Flat tho’ exact’. The so-called ‘goat-sucker’ he illustrates here is the bird now more commonly known as the nightjar, then believed to drink milk from goats. In fact, the reason why nightjars often gather near goats is to the catch insects attracted to the animals’ droppings.