U of M Bird Collection – Part Two

SO…the Cassowary.

DSC_0485 Cassowary (2)This large, flightless bird is still alive (well, not this particular one, but the species in general) and kicking.  And when we say kicking, that can be taken literally, for this bird has been known to do serious damage to people with those powerful legs.

DSC_0485 CassowaryTake a close look at the feathers, and wings.  The feathers are really almost hair-like…coarse hair.  And the larger bits you see in the photo below are all that remain of the wings/wing feathers:  very stiff…whatevers.  It’s like the rachis without any of the rest of the feather attached.

This bird belonged to PT Barnum – he was given it in 1874.  The U of M acquired it many years later when one of their bird collection staff saw it in a back room collection of Mr. Barnum’s things. Upon saying “we don’t have one of those” he was offered the bird.  Et voila – here it is today.

DSC_0488 We saw this poster on one of the cabinets, so we wanted to see the birds…did they really look like this?

DSC_0521Well…sorta.  These are Pittas, a family of passerines (perching birds) from tropical Asia and Australasia.

DSC_0491Many of the males have spectacular iridescent plumage.DSC_0495 DSC_0499

The Hoatzin is this funny chicken-like bird from South America.  I saw these when I visited the Amazon, gosh, 14 years ago!  They are famous for the claws the babies have on their wings, which enable them to climb back up the tree to the nest if they fall out.  It was once thought that this was proof of a missing link between modern day birds and their dinosaur ancestors.  This theory is no longer in vogue.

DSC_0509 hoatzinAnother bird many of the group wanted to see was the Resplendent Quetzal, which hails from Central America.  As you could guess, it gets at least part of its name from its glorious feathers.

DSC_0530 Resplendant Quetzel (5)The Shoebill, or Whalehead, is a large bird that is named for its rather obvious bill, which resembles a wooden clog.  Although often likened to storks, this African native is not related to storks at all.  Today it is believed that this bird is more closely related to pelicans and has thus been reclassified into the pelican family of birds.

DSC_0540 SHoebillJanet pulled out another large African bird for us to see:  the Secretarybird, named for the long stiff feathers on its head, which are reminiscent of writing quills.

DSC_0546 Secretary bird (3)Some people may wonder what the purpose of a collection of birds (or any other animal) like this would be, other than a look at what once was.

Specimen collections are important in many aspects of scientific study, but for our group they served two purposes.  One, we got to see birds many of us would never see otherwise.  Two, collections can help people learn how to identify species.

DSC_0552For example, this selection of thrushes…

DSC_0506 Various Thrusheswas beneficial to one of our group in learning to tell wood, swainson’s and hermit thrushes apart.  Some details are only easily seen when the bird is in the hand.


This collection of yellowthroats …

DSC_0403helps the viewer see the differences that can occur within a single species.

DSC_0404Being able to look at similar species up close can really help train the eye to see  differences that are often very subtle.

DSC_0503After about two hours with Janet and the birds, we took our leave and thanked our gracious host.  On our way out of the museum, we zipped around some of the other exhibits to see what else was there…

like these dinosaur bones!

DSC_0560Every kid loves a dinosaur.  Some of us never outgrow dinosaurs.  I loved this huge eel-like skeleton – what was it?  According to the sign, its a Basiliosaurus, a precurser to the whale.

DSC_0561Mammoths!  Or are they Mastodons?  Or both?  I didn’t get a chance to look at them up close…next time.

DSC_0558There are some terrific dioramas at this museum.  I really liked this one with all the baby opossums in the bottom!

DSC_0567And right now the big draw to the museum is this:

DSC_0572it’s a replica from a fossil that was found of a snake eating a baby dinosaur!  Complete with eggs from the dinosaur nest!  This fossil was found in western India in 1981.  We will never know who would’ve won the battle, the dino or the snake, because they were both covered with silt before the snake could catch the dino or the dino could get away.  Apparently snakes were quite rare during this time period, so this find was simply incredible.

If you find yourself in Ann Arbor with some spare time on your hands, make your way to the U of M’s Museum of Natural History.  It’s free ($6 donation suggested) and well worth a tour.  I know that I will be going back to see more of what they have to offer!

You are also invited to join our Tuesday Group!  Anyone can come out with us.  We meet every Tuesday morning at 9:00 here at Dahlem.  Most of the time we are outside looking for birds, bugs, plants and other critters.  Sometimes we study geology.  Sometimes we travel to other sites to see new and exciting things.  If you are interested in natural history, come on out and join us!


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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