The lure of the nest
Spring has officially arrived. This means longer days, milder weather, and the happy, melodic banter of songbirds.
At the Museum of Natural History, it means crunch time. Staff members have been working since December on the installation of the museums newly renovated bird exhibition in what is now known as the Hageboeck Hall of Birds. The renaming of the hall is in recognition of a gift from William and Eleanor Hageboeck of Iowa City.
Though a grand opening event for the exhibition is set for May 5, staff members hope to welcome the public as early as next month.
Julia Golden, the museums interim director, says visitors can expect many improvements to the halls exhibition, which has a new title, "Taking Flight: The World of Birds." Not only have all the murals been repainted and the birds cleaned and remounted, but new displays will allow for more education and interpretation.
"Were going to feature new sections on birds nests and skeletons. One display will include real nests, most of which were collected more than 100 years ago. Well also have a wall of feathers," she says, pointing to a bright orange plume from a red ibis.
In addition, new displays will feature information on eggs and bird DNA. Other new elements will include flip panels and tip-out drawers with more information; extensive labeling with stories identifying characteristics of specific groups of birds; an interactive computer program on bird song; and a 15-minute video on bird flight produced by the Audiovisual Center. Additionally, each bird will have a badge indicating which seasons, if any, one might see the bird in Iowa.
The gallery, which opened in 1904 and has one of the Midwests largest collections of North American birds, has had only one facelift in its lifetime and that was 30 years ago, Golden explains. The current renovation project has been in the works for a decade.
Five years ago, an advisory committee comprised of James Fuller, professor emeritus of operative dentistry, Jeffry Schabilion, professor of biological sciences, Jeff Klahn, lecturer in biological sciences, and Vera Jean Fitzgerald, lecturer in biological sciences, began meeting to plan the new components.
One new display is a suspended wandering albatross, whose skeleton had been shown in a perched position before the renovation. It now hangs from the ceiling with a wing span of more than 11 feet. Former museum director George Schrimper took apart the skeleton, cleaned it, and repositioned it. Terry Brown, of Minneapolis, designed the flying model that surrounds the skeleton.
Perhaps the most significant development in the gallery, Golden says, is the addition of updated and expanded labels. One can learn, for example, what characteristics distinguish a swallow from other birds or how owls digest rodents. The information has a wide appeal.
"The content is at the college level but presented in language that is less scientific than what might be used in a college lab courseits also suitable for tours of K-12 students," she says.
As a curator of paleontology in the Department of Geoscience, Golden says shes learned a lot about birds in recent months.
"Yesterday I saw a bird," she says. "I wasnt sure what it was, but when I heard it sing, I said to myself, Thats a flicker, I can tell. Before this renovation, I might not have been able to identify it."
Most of the installation, she notes, should be complete by the end of the month. Staff members will then spend time finishing the gallery before opening it to the public. Two areas that will be open at a later date are "Iowa: The Most Altered Landscape," which will depict how environmental, cultural, and industrial changes in Iowa have affected birdlife, and "Birds and You," which will illustrate human relationships with birds and offer tips on how to attract backyard birds.
The museum has more than 30,000 visitors each year, nearly half of whom are schoolchildren and University students. Exhibit designer Bruce Scherting, who came to campus from Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum in Chicago, says the museum is impressive for its size.
"Its quite a good collection," he says. "People are always surprised when they visit."
To learn more about the museum or to check on the gallerys progress, see www.uiowa.edu/~nathist.
by Sara Epstein