ornithological specimen

In the ornithology class at U of M, the students are about learn all about color! Bird plumage comes in every color of the rainbow, from the mousiest browns to the brightest oranges. The different hues and tones also have a world of purposes for helping birds to survive, including camouflaging with every habitat available, attracting the finest mates, and even warning less dominant birds who the boss is around here.

While the pigments and structures that make these gorgeous colors may be different, the result is a beautiful, endless array of birds that are diverse enough to keep anyone hooked for a lifetime.

Photo credit: Ash Boudrie

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Tropical wild life in British Guiana zoological contributions from the Tropical Research Station of the New York Zoological Society, 

by William Beebe … G. Inness Harvey

with an introduction by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.
Publication info
New York City,The New York Zoological Society,1917-
BHL Collections:
Smithsonian Libraries

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On many of our skulls, you might notice there are small rings of bone in the eye sockets. These are sclerotic rings, and they’re found in many species of bird. It’s thought that these rings, which are also found in many species of reptiles, amphibians, and fish, can help stabilize an animal’s eyeballs. They may also help to keep particularly large eyeballs from straining themselves while the animal is trying to focus its sight on something.

Photo credit: Mary Margaret Ferraro

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Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) do everything in life on the ground. The feed on the ground, they nest on the ground; honestly, it’s a bit amazing that they bother with wings anymore. This means that these birds have to blend into the litter layers of North American grasslands. The female, like in many species, does a much better job of blending in. But where they are a buff color, males have bright white instead.

This taxidermy display does a great job incorporating animal behavior and landscape knowledge to show off these birds’ lives. The male is standing for the world to see, the female is almost hidden by the colors of the surrounding plants. Taxidermy displays can be such a great educational tool, and it’s always great to find more hiding away in our cabinets! 

Photo credit: Ash Boudrie

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Have you ever thought that a chicken could be beautiful? The domestic chicken is thought to have been domesticated from birds of the Gallus genus, the Junglefowl. Many species of Junglefowl were domesticated, bred, and hybridized throughout Asia, then spreading across the world to become an integral part of farms, families, and diets in so many cultures! This particular subspecies of Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus murghi) is found in India and Bangladesh, and the incredible colors of its feathers shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of how familiar most of us are with its domestic cousin.

Photo credit: Ash Boudrie

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The Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is the smallest owl in Michigan. In fact, they’re so tiny, they’ll actually split a mouse between two meals. While their small stature might seem to be a disadvantage, these small bundle of fluff are incredibly well suited to cold weather, living in Michigan throughout the year. Only some populations migrating south for the winter, as researchers have learned through tracking them more consistently since the 1990s.

Photo credit: Ash Boudrie

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When working with teeny, tiny bones, the worst thing imaginable is losing track of which jaw belongs with which skull. For this reason, a specimen number is written on every bone possible. This means a lot of incredibly delicate work for some of UMMZ’s volunteers, who use a steady hand, a very thin pen, and some excellent penmanship to keep every bone sorted properly.

This Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) must have been difficult to label. Just look at those skull sections! Some of the surfaces aren’t much wider than a needle.

Photo credit: Mary Margaret Ferraro

As many of you noticed last week, this skull comes from a Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), a strange, nocturnal bird that look incredibly like a Jim Henson puppet come to life.

Besides the gigantic eyes, you might notice that this skull has a very wide bill. Frogmouths have bills that seem small when closed, as feather cover over most of the sides. However, once they open their mouths, it’s easy to see the similarity to a wide-mouth amphibian friend. That mouth is excellent for catching insects, other invertebrates, and even the occasional small bird, mammal, or ironically, frog.

Photo credit: Mary Margaret Ferraro

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Reasons Ash is awesome: I asked for a bowerbird, and I am sent photos of a Flame Bowerbird (Sericulus aureus). 

The Flame Bowerbird, or Masked Bowerbird depending on which side of the subspecies debate you land on, lives in New Guinea, and it looks very different from most bowerbirds. Usually, a male bowerbird is fairly dark and sleek, but this guy is bold and shockingly orange! They still build bowers, long tunnels of sticks, to attract mates, and they have a fantastic, shoulder-roll-heavy mating dance that can also be used as a pick-me-up after a long day at human work.

Photo credit: Ash Boudrie

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I want to be somewhat professional in my writing, but I have to be honest with you. The first thing that pops into my head when looking at this Merlin (Falco columbarius) is, “What a cutie pie!” Very dignified, self, well done.

In all honesty, the attractiveness of this bird of prey has shaped much of its history with humans. In Medieval Europe, they were used in falconry, though mostly by the noblewomen of the age. Their delicate size, gorgeous plumage, and deft ability to catch small songbirds mid-flight make them incredible to watch, and made them the bird of choice for a lady with a passion for the hunt. 

These birds are skillful, intelligent, and deadly, much like the women who hunted with them and those who prep them in our lab!

Photo credit: Aspen Ellis