This week I spent five hours photographing pigeon wings at the Burke Museum of Natural History at the University of Washington. Believe it or not, there are some gorgeous pigeons out there, but the Nicobar Pigeon stood out from all the rest. I mean, check out that iridescence! Males tend to be more shiny than females. And this individual had LOTS of shiny.
These stunningly beautiful pigeons are native to most of the Indo-Australasian Archipelago from the Nicobar Islands in the west to the Solomons in the east. They feed primarily on the ground where they eat seeds, fruits, and plant buds.
Nicobar Pigeons are believed to be the closest living relatives to the extinct Didines which included the odd, flightless Dodo and Rodrigues Solitaire. Due to a lack of DNA evidence however, scientists are still not very confident in these relationships. It seems likely that most pigeons and doves in this region are relatively closely related and diverged during an Indopacific radiation event which occurred some 50 million years ago.
To learn more about the intriguing evolutionary history of these breathtaking birds, check out this link.
Here’s your weekly Featured Creature courtesy of the Slater Museum of Natural History. This little guy is one of my favorite specimens in the collection. Let’s see how fast we can get a correct ID for him! Remember, get it right and you’ll be entered to win some really neat prizes!
Back in my days as an undergraduate, I was part of an eccentric bunch of scientists, artists, and writers responsible for producing one of the most fantastic pieces of scientific journalism ever conceived - the Elements Science Magazine of the University of Puget Sound. The brainchild of super-nerdy bio and chem majors, Elements has now become a University sponsored medium and is a highly anticipated campus-wide publication. Elements seamlessly blends science, culture, and art, presenting readers with a myriad of interesting, engaging, and easily-comprehensible articles full of both cutting-edge and silly science.
We also pioneered the Cosmo Nerd spread inspired, of course, by stereotypically laughable Cosmopolitan Magazine covers.
This is the only species of hummingbird to overwinter here in the Pacific Northwest – and they’ve only been doing it for a few decades. Scientists believe that human-provided winter nourishment (i.e. hummingbird feeders) are the primary food source for these non-migrating individuals during the winter months.
As such, researchers at the University of Puget Sound are studying these two distinct populations of birds to determine if they might be diverging – genetically and morphologically. With the help of museum specimens dating back to the early 20th century, we are finding that resident populations of hummers here in the PNW are slightly different than their migratory counterparts.
Opening a tray of Peromyscus or looking down a row of Pine Siskins gives you the feeling that we have an inordinate amount of “dead stuff” in our collections. Many visitors are appalled by this thought. But you can’t simply think of these specimens as “dead things,” rather we must realize that each individual is a unique representative of variation within the species.
This week’s Featured Creature is more of a mystery object.
These strange bones were brought to the museum for identification by a local naturalist. They were found on a nearby lake shore. The longest (on the left) is nearly 7cm long. The shortest is just over 3cm.
Can you tell me what kind of bones these are, what sort of creature they came from, and why they look the way they do?