I stumbled across this mysterious daguerreotype of a bird from 1851.
It is one of the first photographic images taken of an animal...
I did a short research and found some more examples of animal photography from the 19th century. Mostly dogs with or without their owners. The only daguerreotype showing a cat explains, why photographs of animals from these early years of photography are so rare: Daguerreotype exposures are pretty lengthy and for animals to keep their pose for such a long time is almost impossible.
The intentions behind all of these photographs are pretty clear. The pets are beloved animals and portrayed as family members, farm animals symbolize wealth or breeding succes and stuffed animals are simply hunting trophies. The rare pictures of exotic animals probably have a scientific background, or, in case of the falcon, are most likely a status symbol.
Now that I've put together this post the initial fascination for the picture with the bird has even grown stronger. It doesn't quite fit into any of these categories. First of all it's not a pet, it's a wild animal and it seems to be alive (not stuffed). Yet it sits on a table with a patterned cloth - probably in a studio. One might wonder, if this bird is actually injured. That would explain the crouched position. And what about the thread spool in front of the bird?
In the end, I found a lot of great photographs, but the portrait of the bird remains a mystery.
Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth, ca. 1855
Cat drinking from a bowl. Ca. 1840 – 1860
Anonymous American - "Portrait of a Young Boy Seated in a Straight
Backed Chair and Holding His Dog", 1840's
Portrait of a smirking gentleman with his dog, wearing a hat
and chewing on a glove, Ambrotype, ca. 1850-60’s
Anonymous - Portrait of a Man with his Springer Spaniel, ca. 1850's
Attractive Woman with her Large Dog
Portrait of a girl with her dog, possibly a King Charles spaniel,
Fontayne & Porter, ca. 1850’s
Poodle with Bow on Table by Anonymous American Photographer, 1850
Nero, a dog once owned by the Barton family
Anonymous - Labrador Retriever, 1880's
Anonymous - "Sir George Glyn" and "Bijou", Great Britain, 1870's
Daguerreotype of dog owned by Sheldon K. Nichols, 1852-53
Photograph of a dog, Houston's Excelsior Gallery, ca. 1855-1895
Photograph of a dog on a rug, Bradley & Rulofson, ca. 1855-1895
Full length portrait, seated boy with dog, ca. 1870
Portrait of a disheveled looking man with his black lab, ca. 1860-80’s (ebay)
Pair of oxen with their drovers, ca. 1848
Four Men Posed with a Bull, Unknown, American, ca. 1850
Mountain Man and Hunting Dog, circa 1860
Louis-Jules Duboscq-Soleil - Mountain Goat, 1850's
CDV of Taxidermist
Stuffed eagle in Independence Hall, ca. 1845
Hawk Perched on Gauntlet of a Falconer, Ambrotype, British, 1855
Texas horned lizard, Barr & Wright, Photographers, ca. 1870s
via Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library
more examples can be found here, here and here