[Tweeters] Museum Collections
SGMlod at aol.com
SGMlod at aol.com
Tue Dec 13 09:46:54 PST 2005
In addition to the Burke, there is the Slater Museum at UPS, also a fine
place and possible final resting place.
I am going to take this moment to get on a podium. Feel free to leave the
It was nice to hear a couple folks talk about how much they've enjoyed the
Whatcom collection and are sad to see it go. Specimen collections are much
undervalued by most birders. I am shocked when I go the Burke Museum (which has a
sign-in book) how few folks partake of the opportunity to visit (I'm sure the
same holds for the Slater, which is more informal about recording visits).
There is so much to be learned from looking at specimens, particularly of
birds pigeon-sized or smaller, for which their tends to be good numbers to
evaluate (it takes a lot of room to store swan specimens!). Yes, there are photos on
the web, but they aren't the same. If you really want to learn how to ID a
bird, study it as much as you can in the field, derive a list of questions (is
species A consistently browner on the back than species B?, etc), go to the
museum and study the differences (keeping an open mind to those not mentioned in
texts and taking careful notes or photos), field test your new knowledge, and
then (new questions will arise) go back.
This process has helped me with a number of identification quandaries,
despite vastly underusing the opportunity myself.
Also, specimens aren't some static dust-collecting ancient ritual. An example
of their utility in ongoing research is --- Sievert Rohwer at the UW used
specimens extensively in his studies that have shown the differences in
molt-timing between many eastern and western species/races. This had added to our
understanding of why Bullock's and Baltimore Orioles have remained separate while
YS and RS Flickers haven't. RS and YS Flickers both molt before migrating. A
hybird would do the same. Bullock's Orioles start their migration, then molt in
sw. US/nw. Mexico. Baltimore Orioles molt on their breeding grounds. At least
one hybrid specimen showed evidence of molting twice in one fall, a definite
survival disadvantage. Thus in flickers hybrids are not disadvantaged by
hybridization (at least in this manner) while hybrid orioles are. The flickers have
remained as one species, the orioles have not despite some hybridization. The
issue is more complex, but this gives a sense of the utility of specimen
collections. Much of this would be otherwise impossible.
The value of specimen collections in research is tremendous in ornithology
and, potentially, in birding and they deserve our support.
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