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Pickled Birds and Friday Trivia #6

April 10, 2009
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My latest tasks at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences bird lab have involved the museum’s significant collection of pickled bird specimens, that is, specimens who instead of being turned into a study skin or a skeleton, have been dumped whole hog into a big ole jar of ethanol. Some of these birds are very old, with very old tags which need to be replaced with newer and more useful tags. So that is what we did last week.

We opened the unopenable jars, pulled out the soggy specimens, and tied a brand spanking new tag on the leg, taking care to replace the bird in the jar in a way that the tag can be easily seen from the outside. I won’t gross you out with photos of waterlogged birds on the prep table, but here are a few jars of terns and gulls.

Of course, spending time in a room full of ethanol fumes is a tiresome and mildly headache inducing, but crucial part of museum work. The birds in the jars can be used by researchers interested in muscles and other internal avian structures that aren’t possible to study with a study skin, which is essentially a bird skin wrapped around a cotton ball, sans body.

As for the trivia part of the post? Well, sometimes bird parts are so interesting and weird that they get saved too. And that’s what I have for you, dear reader(s).

What, exactly, is this thing?

First correct answer gets nothing but the honor and prestige they clearly deserve. Sorry, but that’s all I have.

8 Comments
  1. Jeff Gyr permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:19 am

    N8–Is that a flamingo tongue? Very cool and weird, whatever it is.

  2. Nate permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:43 am

    @Jeff- You got it! I thought it looked like a sea slug when I saw it.

  3. Born Again Bird Watcher permalink
    April 10, 2009 3:26 pm

    N8 – you truly have the coolest job of anyone I know.

  4. dAwN permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:27 pm

    N8..ugh..wierd pickled birdies..

    We are now parked for a month in Carthage, NC…I am keeping a close watch on your blog to see what birds you are seeing and where.
    I am also looking to pick Morel mushrooms…any suggestions?

  5. dAwN permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:28 pm

    Is that really a Flamingo tongue?

  6. Nate permalink
    April 10, 2009 7:40 pm

    @babw- I wish it was my job! I’m a volunteer there, which means I get all the benefits of getting my hands dirty in the collections without the hassle of getting paid for it. 😉

    @dAwN- It’s about 45 minutes away but you should check out Howell Woods in Johnston County. It’s a good spot for migrating warblers and there are nesting Swainson’s Warblers there that are relatively easy to find.

    And yup, that’s a flamingo tongue.

  7. John permalink
    April 11, 2009 12:40 am

    Mmm… pickles.

  8. Christopher permalink
    April 13, 2009 2:09 pm

    Well, hopefully you’re volunteer work will get you enough “ins” that it will turn into a paying job someday – still it’s a great volunteer position! You do get to work with some pretty cool stuff.

    @Jeff – I am in absolute AWE that you picked that out!!!

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