We took a tour of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology this morning. This is our second trip to the facility. Longtime curator Janet Hinshaw retired a few years ago, so we were lead by a relatively new member of the staff, Collection Manager, Brett W. Benz, Ph.D.
The first stop was to the lab where birds are prepared for the collection. They are either stored as skins of reduced down to bones. To produce a skin the bird is stripped of all internal organs, muscles, and bones. Only the feathers and legs/feet are left. Multiple tissue samples or entire organs are saves and preserved. Depending on the species/study the contents of the stomach may be saved.
During the intake birds are preserved before preparation in normal kitchen refrigerator/freezers. The tissue samples are saved in deep liquid nitrogen freezers which are able to keep the tissue well preserved for hundreds of years.
The facility is a working lab so we passed through some other labs as well as a documents area where there are catalog books going back to the 19th Century. The bulk of the collection was from the late 19th and into the 20th Century. The collection information is in a database that can be accessed by other learning and research institutions.
In addition to the big freezers, this facility also has a very small CT imaging machine. The scanner allows for specimens to be scanned in 3D and provides imaging of skeletal systems and internal organs. Bones can then be measured and added to image databases to provide sample bone structures for different taxa. This will be able to aid bone identification without resorting to boxes of physical bone collection on the premise.
The bird collection is the 5th largest in the nation and has about 98% of the world's species. It includes skins (of course), bones, eggs, nests, juveniles, and tissue & stomach contents samples. The room with the skins shares its space with mammals and insect collections.
Bret provided us with some views of some unique birds and we also ordered ahead for some birds to view and compare. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a bit bigger than the Pileated of our Michigan woods. However, they not that closely related, but we did see the Ivory-billed's cousin the Imperial Woodpecker. He unfortunately shares a berth in the "Extinct Taxa" drawer.
We got to get a close look at the Coopers and Sharp-shinned cousins up close and the size range between species and sex was very apparent. He added a Northern Goshawk to show the really cast range of these accipiters.
Others birds of interest were the Empidonax group, shrikes, hummingbirds, and a Kiwi.
Partial Trip List:
NO eBird list was submitted, as these were all dead, it would have set off several rare bird alarms for Ann Arbor, and my eBird account would have been suspended. But we did get a Double-crested cormorant flying over the parking lot on the way home.