Trip Reports
American Museum of Natural History (Manhattan) — February 14, 2010
posted 8/8/10
    

Note: This field trip was by special invitation from Scott Haber of the AMNH Ornithology department. We are deeply grateful to Scott for initiating this exciting adventure, and to Peter Capainolo and Scott for giving up a Sunday to give us this fabulous tour.

Scott Haber teaching us about birds
Scott Haber teaching us about birds

FIELD TRIP REPORT

Meeting in the heated depths of a world-famous museum rather than out in the chill and brush, this was still our most bird-filled trip by far (even if they were a bit less lively).  We were graciously welcomed by Scott Haber, Curatorial Assistant to the Ornithology Department, and Peter Capainolo, Senior Scientific Consultant to the Department.  We sat around a table littered with a sampling of birds and bird parts, ranging from an albino cormorant to a macaw wing to a trio of Black Vulture chicks from a nesting site upstate.  Scott and Peter touched on a wide variety of topics, including bird evolution, behavior and conservation. 

We then embarked on our tour of the ornithology collections, descending by way of an antique, hand-operated elevator.  (We all were somewhat puzzled by the boot-print that prominently marked the elevator ceiling).  The bird collection at the museum is breathtaking – AMNH is one of two museums holding the largest ornithology collections in the world, with around one million specimens in the possession of the museum representing nearly all of the approximately ten thousand species of birds known to science.  We walked on narrow paths amongst a jungle of metal compartments that stretched from floor to ceiling, stopping to look at a variety of skeletons, spread-wings, skins, mounts, tissue samples and wet specimens.  The huge, crusty jars holding 100-year old frigatebirds preserved in alcohol were especially impressive.  We also stopped by the preparation room, where new specimens are readied for storage, glancing at an inside-out hawk.

Relaxing after a full morning
Relaxing after a full morning

Upstairs we strolled through a more modern series of compartments.  Scott took our special requests, and by the end of the morning we had seen a huge variety of birds, from hummingbirds to eagles to jays.  We walked through a beautiful exhibit of Audubon mammal paintings, and we also got to see a few samples from the museum’s extensive egg and nest collection.  A real highlight was our trip up to the rare specimen room.  Remarkably, the museum houses the type specimens for more than half of all known bird species.  We were able to see and touch some of the most famous of extinct birds.  Scott brought out a tray of the museum’s 43 Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimens, along with a Labrador Duck and a Pink-Headed Duck, among others. 

After leaving the museum, we headed over to Jacob Drucker’s house for some delicious pizza and dessert.  All in all, it was a unique and exciting excursion, and thanks so much to the Druckers for their hospitality, and to Scott and Peter for such a memorable tour!

                                       — Ben Goloff, age 16

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FOLLOW UP

The hospitality and generosity of Scott, Peter, and the Museum are greatly appreciated. As a gesture of gratitude, adult participants on the trip donated money, which was pooled with a contribution from NYSYBC and sent to the Museum after the trip, specifically for the Ornithology department, with a letter of appreciation.

We received a nice letter of acknowledgment from the Museum, as well as this note from Scott Haber:

Carena,

Peter and I wanted to thank you and the rest of the club for your very generous donation to the Ornithology department here at AMNH.  We will make sure you contribution gets put to good use. 

Once again, it was a pleasure meeting the kids (and the adults as well), and we'd be more than happy to do another tour in the future if the group is interested again.

Best,
Scott

We hope to take Scott up on his kind offer in the future, so that more young birders can get a chance at the great experience we all enjoyed this time around.  

                                        Carena Pooth, NYSYBC Committee Chair, age 29+