Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes Adventure at the Smithsonian Institution

Lots of people go to the Smithsonian Institution and I bet they wonder about all the interesting things behind the scenes and out of view. Well I was lucky enough to go see this for myself. Are you ready to hear about the personal tour I had with my family? Well we walked around the museum for about an hour before we sat down in a sea of hubbubbing people by a stuffed elephant that I called a taxidermy pachydermy.

We waited to meet an ornithologist named Dr. Carla Dove who was going to take us away from the noisy lobby. Then a lady came through the crowds and we knew our real adventure had begun. Dr. Dove had a happy smile that made everyone feel at ease. She was very nice and I really liked her from the start.

I first heard about Dr. Dove when there was an airplane hit some birds and crash landed into the Hudson River. She was the one who identified the bird that caused this accident by a piece of feather that was stuck on the airplane. I thought I would like to meet her because I like to ID feathers that I find on the ground. I thought that seeing her would be a good experience for my learning and love of birds.

Dr. Dove took us into the quiet world of the biologists working behind the scenes at the Smithsonian. We walked through an elaborate labyrinth of hallways, offices and many wooden cabinets full of animal specimens. Dr. Dove took us to her lab and we met her colleagues in the feather identification lab. The ornithology section is made up of several different offices and labs. It was huge.

We then went through a maze of passages into the specimen prep room where all the bird specimens are prepared. They were prepping an invasive bird collected in the Hawaiian Islands. Whenever they took the muscle out, they stuffed cotton in its place which is similar to the way I taxidermy birds. What was different is that they take out bones and wrap cotton around wooden sticks to replace the bone and muscle. They also used ground corn to dry out the birds. The final touch was to sew up the specimen and the legs were crossed and a tag with name and collection date was attached.

Then Dr. Dove took us back to her office where she has a microscope setup. She then found a microscope slide and showed me the difference between water fowl and a chicken. Dr. Dove described that chicken feather filaments looked like curtain rod rings while water fowl has little triangles at the ends. I found it easy to tell the difference.

Next we left her office to look at the giant collection of bird specimens. At the Museum of Natural History, they have 650,000 bird specimens. Dr. Dove opened up a drawer of some of the most colorful birds I had ever seen and some of them were extinct. There was a beautiful bird called a Passenger Pigeon. It went extinct like the dinosaurs except this happened in the last century and was caused by humans. The same thing happened with the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and the Carolina Parakeet. But lucky for us, most of the bird species we saw were still living but will still have the opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

One of the highlights was that I was able to see any bird in the world which I wanted to see. Carla Dove would take us to the right place from her memory. I touched an Emperor Penguin, a Tropic Bird, a Bird of Paradise, a Skua and a Parasitic Jaeger. This was so much better than looking in a book since you can pick it up and see the bird from every angle. I could see individual feathers with their different shapes, sizes and colors. The Emperor Penguin was extra extra heavy and had scaly flippers because penguins are the most primitive birds. I also saw the smallest bird called the Bee Hummingbird which had a wing span of only a couple of inches. It was amazing to think that it could even fly.

I was given a metallic purple and blue feather which I did not know the species or its origin. So I showed to Carla Dove and we looked through a few drawers. We took out several specimens for comparison and we found an exact match to the Magpie. It was a really fun learning experience to be working with an expert like Dr. Dove!

This adventure gave me a boost on birds. It made me love the study of birds or ornithology all the more. It was amazing to see someone make a career out of my passion. Seeing so many different species of birds I had never seen was an unbelievably inspiring experience.

For more information on Dr. Carla Dove check out

See you on the next edition of the Nudibranch Network.

No comments:

Post a Comment