[Tweeters] Museum Collections

SGMlod at aol.com SGMlod at aol.com
Tue Dec 13 09:46:54 PST 2005

Greetings All

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 
room :o)

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.

Best Wishes
Steven Mlodinow
Everett WA
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