Saturday, June 28, 2014

Photo Essay: The Eggs and Nests of The Bird Museum

[Edited 7/9/14 12:45 p.m. – see editor's note below]

The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology is a fascinating bird museum not just because of their collection of over 50,000 study skins, and over 600 mounted specimens posed in life-like postures...



...but also because of their through study of all aspects of bird life, including their eggs and nests.



In fact, the WFVZ has the largest collection of eggs in the world...



...more than a million individual eggs...



...all painstakingly catalogued with data cards...



...corresponding to notes handwritten on the eggs themselves.



Half of the bird species of the world are represented in nearly 200,000 sets of eggs...



...which have been gathered by private collectors, researchers and scientists...



...particularly those who have salvaged fragments and damaged eggs...



...including shells thinned by exposure to insecticides like DDT.



They display the world's largest bird egg – that of the extinct elephant bird –



...as well as evidence of dinosaur eggs.



Challenging the common conception of birds' nests as little round cups of sticks and twigs...



...this bird museum demonstrates the resourcefulness and ingenuity of many bird species in building from whatever material they can get their hands on (horsehair, fishing line, Easter basket grass)...



...in whatever size and shape is most likely to deter predator attacks.

At 18,000 specimens and counting, it is also the largest collection of bird nests in the word, featuring some in acrylic display cases, and others bagged away in drawers.

But they still rely on a very analog data system of hand-written tags corresponding to hand-written data cards, filed away manually in a card catalogue. If one gets lost, or if the data (where/when it was collected, initial appearance, other observations) gets separated from the specimen, there is no "cloud" from which to retrieve the backup. It's lost forever. [Ed: WFVZ says they have digitized a lot of their data already, and that they have several back ups to retrieve it. They are in the process of scanning and digitizing everything now, thanks to a national grant.]

Worse yet, this collection won't be here forever. Since their specimens are actively used for research and illustrators of field guides, in occasional human contact with monthly public tours, they can't be completely protected from the elements. Without a dark, airtight, temperature-controlled environment, they are constantly fighting bugs, lizards, and other critters who make their way into the collection looking for a tasty snack, as well as the degenerative properties of light and human touch.

Good taxidermy (and well-blown eggs) can last a while in human life span terms: the WFVZ's oldest surviving specimen is likely from the 1870s. From an evolutionary standpoint, though, that's not very long...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Birds of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology
Photo Essay: Moore Laboratory of Zoology, Closed to Public