The Birds of the Field Museum

WARNING: This post contains images of bird specimens (yes, dead birds – but I hope you’ll see as much beauty in them as I do).

On Saturday, December 13th, I was given a rare opportunity to tour behind the scenes of one of Chicago’s great cultural institutions. Thanks to my friend, Joel Greenberg, I visited the Bird Department at The Field Museum. What can I say, being friends with the author of “the 1st comprehensive book on passenger pigeons in 50 years” will get you into some pretty cool places. No kidding, my inner animal-loving nerd lives for this stuff and even if you can’t tell a penguin from a puffin, I’m sure you’ll find the pictures and factoids from my tour fascinating. (I visited the flesh-eating beetles!)

There is a reason for everyone to care about birds. Historically, canaries were used in coal mines to warn the human miners when the air became too dangerous for them. Their respiratory and skin tissues can signal to us when environmental conditions are getting bleak, this makes them an indicator species.

Beyond the ways that birds teach us about healthy environments, their diversity makes birds into beautiful muses. Gorgeous jewels flitting through the sky in every color imaginable. Speaking of colors, scientists know that birds and butterflies have colors on them that appear in the UV spectrum and are not able to be seen by the human eye. Knowing that we  still have so much to learn from nature is humbling.

The Field Museum has over 500,000 specimens in its collection. The bones, feathers, eggs, and whole birds were collected through various donations. Museum staff will occasionally collect on expeditions, but individuals and other organizations will also make donations, such as zoos and the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM). CBCM is a network of volunteers that rescues birds that have collided with buildings. The injured birds are brought to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rehabilitation and release. The deceased birds are delivered to the museum scientists.

Click through the images in the gallery. Descriptions are below the photos.
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