Standing precariously on a swivel chair, I reach up and slowly pull out the top most drawer of a green metal cabinet. To my left, a walrus head mount watches me, a blubbery frown forever fixed on its face. An array of mounted birds is lined up at the top of the cabinets: Superb Lyrebird, Common Loon, Golden Eagle, two gaudy male peacocks, and a Great Argus Pheasant with curly tail plumes reaching all the way up to the ceiling.
The bird skin collection at CC is named after early ornithologist Charles Aiken who collected many of the school’s bird specimens. In the top most drawer which I am carefully pulling out are some colorful South American birds. Although I am short and the drawer hard to reach, the stretch is worth it when I hold in my purple-gloved hands a shimmering Blue Dacnis from Brazil. I take it with me to a table and begin a sketch.
I have made several visits to the collection now, primarily to sketch, but sometimes to ogle. Others find collections useful for studying the minute details of taxonomy. It could certainly be working ground for improving identification skills for, say, Empidonox flycatchers. Most museums and many universities have skin collections. I highly recommend asking around, the experience is worth it.
Visiting a collection at the University of Florida
Photo Courtesy of Andy Bankert