Among the beloved prints in John James Audubon’s “The Birds of North America” is plate No. 411, a Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus.
The regal white bird paddles along on its huge, black, webbed feet, each tiny feather rippling with the water. Yellow lilies float before it, the swan’s graceful neck looped like a needle, with what looks like a smile crossing its beak. Copies of the print hang in classrooms and living rooms across the world, a symbol of taste and an environmental conscience.
Another smiling swan has appeared in a very different setting, alighting not on paper but on a roll-down gate about six blocks from Mr. Audubon’s final resting place in the Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan. What a strange bird it is, all spray-painted poise and fluorescent pink skies. From its long beak juts a fearsome tooth.
The mural has about as much in common with an Audubon watercolor as Angry Birds does with duck hunting.
Even so, these works, separated by 176 years, share an important bond. The uptown swan is part of a new collaboration between the National Audubon Society, a local gallerist and his landlord to bring 314 murals of North American avifauna to the neighborhood where the nomadic naturalist lived out his final years.